South Korea has raised its military alert status, a senior military official has said, as tensions remain high on the Korean peninsula.
The Combined Forces Command in Seoul has raised its “Watchcon 3” status, a normal defence condition, by one level in order to step up monitoring, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday.
This came as Seoul’s defence ministry says Pyongyang has completed preparations for missile test that could come “any day”.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the North’s military is capable of conducting multiple missile launches involving Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles, as well as a missile transported to the east coast recently.
The warning came as Pyongyang prepared to mark the April 15 birthday of its founder Kim Il-sung.
The date is historically a time when it seeks to draw the world’s attention with dramatic displays of military power.
The commander of US forces in the Pacific region, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said the US military also believed the North had moved an unspecified number of Musudan missiles to its east coast.
A US government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Reuters news agency “our working assumption is that there are two missiles that they may be prepared to launch”.
UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who once served as South Korean foreign minister, said he is “deeply concerned and troubled” at the level of tension in the peninsula.
“If any small incident caused by miscalculation or misjudgement, it may create an uncontrollable situation,” Ban said.
Pyongyang has frequently tested short-range Scud missiles, but the longer-range Musudan and Nodong missiles are an unknown quantity.
The Musudan missiles are reckoned to have a range of roughly 3,000-3,500km.
The North has earlier said it would target American bases in the Pacific, although it is not known whether the untested missiles have the range to do so.
“If the missile was in defence of the homeland, I would certainly recommend that action [of intercepting it]. And if it was defence of our allies, I would recommend that action,” Admiral Locklear told a US Senate hearing in Washington.
The North has been threatening the United States and South Korea on almost a daily basis in recent weeks, although the threats appear to be aimed partly at boosting internal support for young leader Kim Jong-un.
Analysts say the current tensions will likely last until the end of April, when joint US-South Korean military drills end.