S Korea denies suggestion of North Korea nuclear test

North Korean soldiers with military dogs take part in drills in an unknown location in this picture taken on April 6, 2013.

SEOUL/BEIJING - South Korea's Defence Ministry on Monday denied suggestions that a nuclear arms test was imminent in North Korea, saying reported movements around the reclusive country's atomic site were routine, contradicting earlier government comments.

Speculation has been mounting that North Korea will launch some sort of provocative action in coming days - an arms test or a missile launch - after weeks of bellicose threats against the South and the United States.

The prospect of another test would have boosted tension, already driven up by Pyongyang's fury over the imposition of new US sanctions after its last nuclear test in February.

"We found there had been no unusual movements that indicated it wanted to carry out a nuclear test," a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

South Korea's Unification Minister, responding to a newspaper report, had earlier said movements did point to a test. "I can only say there are such signs," Ryoo Kihi-jae told a parliamentary committee, while declining to give details.

The JoongAng Ilbo daily, quoting a senior South Korean government official, had reported that movement of manpower and vehicles at the Punggye-ri test site was similar to that observed before the February blast.

North Korean statements have clearly irritated China, the North's sole diplomatic and financial backer. Leaders in Beijing, in scarcely veiled criticism of the North, have in recent days said they would tolerate no "trouble-making" on their border.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on Monday said Beijing wanted to see nuclear-free peace on the peninsula and said it was the responsibility of al parties to work towards it.

Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a Beijing briefing that China "believes that the only way to realise denuclearisation is dialogue among all the parties concerned".

North Korean authorities told embassies in Pyongyang they could not guarantee their safety from Wednesday - after saying conflict was inevitable amid joint US-South Korean military exercises due to last until the end of the month. No diplomats appear to have left the North Korean capital.

A South Korean government official, quoted by Yonhap news agency, said a North Korean general had told diplomats at the weekend that the situation remained "grave". But he made no mention of Pyongyang's appeal to consider leaving by Wednesday.

Pyongyang has moved what appeared to be a mid-range Musudan missile to its east coast, according to media reports last week.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Seoul this week and the North holds celebrations and possibly military demonstrations next Monday to mark the birth date of its founder, Kim Il-Sung - grandfather of the current leader, 30-year-old Kim Jong-un.

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