South Korea’s defense ministry and Japanese media say North Korea appears to be preparing to launch a long-range missile.
Activity has been spotted at a launch station on the North Korea’west coast of the isolated nation.
Earlier this week Pyongyang announced it was planning to launch a satellite at some point in February.
North Korea’s announcement was internationally condemned – critics saying it is a cover to test banned missile technology.
The isolated country also conducted its fourth nuclear bomb test on January 6.
UN sanctions against North Korea prohibit it from carrying out any nuclear or ballistic missile tests.
Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun also said South Korea’s military was ramping up its air defense readiness so it was ready to intercept any missile or debris falling in its territory. The South has already ordered certain commercial flights to divert their routes.
Japan’s national broadcaster NHK, citing unnamed officials, also reported similar news about activity at Dongchang-ri, and added that a mobile launcher carrying a ballistic missile had also been seen moving near the east coast.
Separately, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in a statement reported by Yonhap that any long-range missile launch by the North “should never be condoned as it poses a threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and the world”.
Park Geun-hye said the move was “a desperate measure” by the North to maintain its regime, and showed Pyongyang was not afraid of UN sanctions.
The US-based North Korean analysis website 38 North said recent satellite images show recent activity at Sohae suggesting launch preparations.
These include heightened activity at a building used to receive rocket stages, and a complex that appears ready to conduct engine tests.
North Korean state news agency KCNA reported on February 4 that the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea was holding a meeting among central and army committee members where they discussed how to “further strengthen” the party ahead of a rare political meeting scheduled for May.
Analysts say North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile activity could be a build-up to the upcoming seventh party congress – the first to be held since 1980 – where leader Kim Jong-un is expected to show off the nuclear program.