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North Korea ready for nuclear test, missile launch: intelligence agency

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People watch a TV screen showing a news program reporting with an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at a train station in Seoul, South Korea on May 16. AP-Yonhap
People watch a TV screen showing a news program reporting with an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at a train station in Seoul, South Korea on May 16. AP-Yonhap

NIS says North Korea's COVID cases inflated as those infected with waterborne diseases are also included as 'fever' patients

By Kang Hyun-kyung

North Korea is near completion of another nuclear test or the test-firing of more missiles, or both, despite the national lockdown due to the rapid spread of "stealth Omicron," according to the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

During a closed-door meeting with the members of the National Assembly Intelligence Committee on Thursday, NIS officials were quoted as saying that North Korea's preparations for the next round of provocations are ready.

Therefore, Rep. Kim Byung-kee of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) said the North's next test is simply a matter of time. "We're told that they're in their last stage in the test-firings of the missiles and a nuclear test, so, all I can say is that it would not come as a surprise even if more missiles are test-fired or another nuclear test is conducted any time," he told reporters.

The lawmaker made the remarks when asked if the North's fresh provocations will be launched during U.S. President Joe Biden's visit to South Korea. The U.S. president will arrive in Seoul on Friday for a summit with President Yoon Suk-yeol. Biden will leave Seoul on Sunday for Japan for a Quad summit.

When asked what kinds of missiles the North is to launch, Rep. Kim said he presumes that it will be inter-continental ballistic missiles but noted that he and fellow lawmakers didn't get any further details.

Earlier, the White House confirmed North Korea is ready for another provocation sooner or later.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday (local time) that, "Our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including a long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or frankly both in the days leading into, on or after President Biden's trip to the region."

"We are preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in (South) Korea or in Japan."

Regarding the spread of COVID-19 in North Korea, South Korea's intelligence agency said that the North is expected to see the peak of virus spread in late May or early June.

It said there has been a shift in the North about the perception of COVID-19 vaccines.

"Previously, the North Korean regime was negative about vaccinations as they revealed distrust about the effectiveness of vaccines to prevent the infections. But such a stance seems to have changed as the state-controlled Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported on May 17 that COVID vaccination can prevent people from getting infected," one of the intelligence agency officials was quoted as saying during the National Assembly meeting.

He went on to say that North Korea has yet to respond to South Korea's humanitarian assistance offer, including medicines, adding that this seems to mean that they rejected the offer.

He said that it appears the North is trying to flatten the curve with medical assistance from China.

COVID-19 in North Korea has begun to spread nationwide since late April, according to the intelligence agency.

It, however, said that North Korea's data about "fever" patients includes a great deal of people suffering from waterborne diseases, such as pertussis, measles and typhoid, as those diseases were already rampant there before COVID-19, and that stealth Omicron has only made things worse as it began to spread in late April following a national military parade.

Kang Hyun-kyung

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