There are new concerns over whether North Korea will carry out a nuclear test, after its failed rocket launch on April 13. Both Russia and South Korea have expressed criticism of a possible launch, which they say is anticipated thanks to 'specific intelligence'. North Korea also said on Monday that it would soon initiate 'special actions' that would reduce South Korea's government 'to ashes.' It did not say what the actions would involve.
One of the main motivations behind the threats, which have been issued before, appears to have been an announcement last week that South Korea had deployed a cruise missile capable of striking any part of North Korea's territory.
South Korean defense ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said last week that it wanted to be sure it can respond to North Korean provocations.
The US meanwhile, has said there is no sign that North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear test. North Korea has twice detonated nuclear devices, once in 2006 and again in 2009. After a rocket fired on April 13 disintegrated shortly after lift off, there has been speculation that new leader Kim Jong Un will detonate an atomic device to regain face.
In an attempt to ease tensions, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has urged North Korea to refrain from provocative measures, telling reporters that such actions "will not be desirable for the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula".
North Korea has railed for days against South Korea after it criticised its rocket launch and celebrations of the centennial of Kim Il Sung's birth.
Commentators have said that the country's latest provocations are an attempt by its new leader Kim Jong Un to gain confidence as a leader by portraying the country's military might.
“Ultimately he’s trying tell the world that it is Pyongyang that controls the situation on the Korean peninsula, not the U.S. or South Korea” said Baek Seung Joo, a military specialist at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.
North Korea broke off an agreement to stop the testing of nuclear devices and long range missiles after the US canceled food assistance in response to the botched launch.
Report: North Korea threatens 'special actions' to take out South Korean government (CNN International, 23 April 2012)
Report: N-Korea warned over 'ashes' threat (UK Press Association, 24 April 2012)
Report: No Sign of North Korea Nuclear Test Amid Threats, U.S. Says (Bloomburg, 24 April 2012)