Stepped-up tunnelling seen at N. Korea nuke test site

Construction had resumed at a fourth tunnel at the West Portal

Construction had resumed at a fourth tunnel at the West Portal

A report issued Thursday by 38 North says the activity - spotted in satellite images taken last month - underscores Pyongyang's efforts to maintain the site despite news that tunnel collapses killed several hundred people there after its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on September 3.

The analysis was based on new images of the test site released commercially.

"The North Portal, where the last five nuclear tests were conducted, remains dormant", it said, but "tunnel excavation has been stepped up at the West Portal".

Water was seen draining from the north portal's entrance, the report said, adding that no other significant activity was observed at Punggye-ri's other facilities.

The site also said that on December 28, up to 120 personnel could be seen in seven different formations in the Southern Support Area, but their objective is unknown.

"Approximately nine mining carts are present at the West Portal, and there appear to be new rails on top of the spoil pile", 38North experts said in a report.

He continued: "These officials feared that the USA was already trying to shape the battlefield for a military operation against the North, and that South Koreans do not seem to have grasped the reality that the Trump administration is set on a course for preventive war". However, Pyongyang is extremely serious about this scenario and is not bluffing when it says that "only one question remains: when will war break out?" he wrote.

"The bomber deployment is part of an ongoing planned deployment that affects not only the Korean Peninsula, but also a broader alliance structure in the Pacific", said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. about the decision to deploy the bombers to Guam.

"I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un", Trump said. However, he did not reveal if he had actually spoken to Kim.

38 North's report comes the same week that North Korea agreed to send athletes and officials to next month's Winter Olympics in the South and to discuss easing military hostilities.

But North Korea made no promises on its weapons programme at the talks, and lashed out when asked about denuclearisation by South Korean journalists, saying it was not up for discussion.