By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Feb. 12 (Yonhap) -- After North Korea vowed to continue firing long-range rockets without mentioning a promised nuclear test, South Korea's defense ministry said Tuesday Pyongyang could launch missiles and detonate a nuclear device simultaneously.
South Korea has been put on high alert since the North last month threatened to conduct a third atomic test to protest strengthened sanctions for its December rocket launch, with some expecting the tension to enter the most critical phase this week ahead of political events.
"The military is closely watching the latest movement because North Korea could fire off (a long-range rocket) or something else while testing its nuclear device," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said during a briefing. "South Korea and the U.S. have mobilized all intelligence assets to observe attempts to (fire off a long-range rocket)."
When the North announced it successfully detonated a nuclear device in May 2009, it fired off several short-range missiles on the same day in an apparent move to foil intelligence monitoring near the test site.
The remark came shortly after the North's state media earlier in the day said ruling Workers' Party Political Bureau members are working on future rocket launches as part of an "all-out action of high intensity," without mentioning a nuclear test.
The North's top military body's initial announcement last month said it would conduct a "high-level nuclear test" aimed at the U.S. and further rocket launches.
"Because the North's long-range missile launch violates the U.N. Security Council resolution, we are opposed to the launch," Kim said.
According to military sources, no activity was spotted at the Punggye-ri test site in the northeastern tip during the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell on the weekend. But it was not immediately known whether all preparations have already been completed. The dormant status could be linked to the holiday break or to a manipulative tactic to confuse outside watchers.
"Whether or not North Korea conducts a nuclear test will depend on North Korea's political decision, considering the complicated international situation," Kim said, without elaborating on the possibility of the imminent test.
North Korea claimed that the latest rocket was designed to carry a working satellite into space, but the outside world viewed it as a covert test for its ballistic missile technology.
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