North Korea could hold large-scale military drills in March or April and may test a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), South Korea’s intelligence agency has told the country’s legislators, according to local media reports.
News of North Korea’s possible military exercises comes as the chief of the United Nations nuclear watchdog – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – said that there were “deeply troubling” signs of activity detected at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear testing site.
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“The Nuclear Test Site at Punggye-ri remains prepared to support a nuclear test, and we continue to see indications of activity near Adit 3 of the Test Site,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in a statement to his organisation’s board of governors released on Tuesday.
“The reopening of the nuclear test site is deeply troubling,” he said.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) briefed members of their country’s legislature on Tuesday regarding possible large-scale military exercises by North Korea as well as reports of food shortages, and the recent public appearances of the daughter of the country’s leader Kim Jong Un.
Citing a report that North Korea was facing an annual rice shortfall of 800,000 tonnes, the NIS said that the food shortages in North Korea were not so severe that they could be considered a threat to the regime. The spy agency blamed the north’s food shortage on distribution problems and the effects of COVID-19.
Last week, Kim urged officials in North Korea to meet agricultural production targets as reports emerged of a “grave” food situation in the country.
The South’s spy agency also said that Kim’s daughter – Kim Ju Ae – who has been featured in state media with her father on several occasions in recent months, had likely been promoted in public to signal that Kim’s rule is dynastic. NIS intelligence officials said that the most likely explanation behind the daughter’s appearance was that Kim wanted to promote the legitimacy of the regime’s fourth generation of the Kim family. Ju Ae’s first public appearance late last year prompted speculation that she was being groomed to be the next leader. Ju Ae is believed to be about 10 years of age.
The intelligence agency also said that Kim’s first child is believed to be a son, and the North Korean leader also has a third child whose gender is unknown. Unlike his younger sister, Kim’s son has not made a public appearance, the NIS said.
Yun Kun-young of South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party told reporters on Tuesday after the intelligence briefing that it was possible that Pyongyang will also launch a reconnaissance satellite next month, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.
The United States and South Korean militaries are also currently preparing for large-scale military exercises later this month dubbed Warrior Shield FTX and Freedom Shield.
North Korea has warned that it was prepared to take action to prevent the joint drills from taking place.