North Korea is showing signs it could be preparing to carry out a new nuclear test, South Korea's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said Monday, according to the semi-official South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Ryoo made the comment in response to a South Korean lawmaker who cited unspecified reports suggesting there had been an increase in activity near the site of the North's three previous underground nuclear tests, Yonhap reported.
The South Korean government had said Sunday that it believes North Korea may test a missile about April 10, citing as an indicator Pyongyang's push for workers to leave the Kaesong Industrial Complex by then.
Seoul "is on military readiness posture," South Korea's Blue House spokeswoman Kim Haeng said in a briefing. She said national security chief Kim Jang-soo also based the assessment on North Korea's hint to foreign diplomats in Pyongyang to send personnel out of the country.
The Blue House is the office and residence of South Korea's president, similar to the White House in the United States.
"As of now, nothing out of the ordinary has been detected," she said on Kim's behalf. "If limited war is to break out, North Korea should bear in mind that it will receive damages many times over."
In the rising tide of its anger, North Korea's communist government days ago banned the entry of new workers and trucks into Kaesong, which is on its side of the militarily fortified border with the south.
Personnel and supplies are running out in the shared manufacturing zone, causing 13 companies to cease production, the South Korean Ministry of Unification said in a statement Sunday.
There are 518 people left in Kaesong, with 39 planning to exit Monday.
U.S., South Korean officials put off Washington trip
Gen. James Thurman, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, is canceling a trip to Washington this week due to the rising tensions.
"Given the current situation, Gen. Thurman will remain in Seoul next week as a prudent measure," a spokesman said.
Thurman was to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee.
Gen. Jung Seung-jo, South Korea's top military officer, also delayed a trip to Washington, national news agency Yonhap reported.
Switzerland offers to host meeting
Switzerland offered Sunday to host a meeting between North and South Korea in hopes of calming tensions.
In a statement, the Swiss government condemned North Korea's recent threats and called on all parties to exercise restraint.
The Swiss government "is always ready to contribute to finding a solution, if that is the desire of the parties, for example hosting meetings between them," the statement said.
The government recently reminded North Korea of its offer, the statement said.
Scare tactic bluster
Pyongyang's warpath posturing is a scare tactic, Kim said via his spokeswoman.
"North Korea has been coming out with content that makes headlines on news media every day. This is called the 'headline strategy.' "
It is designed to warp public opinion, he said.
Kim also said not to be fooled by the South's calm reaction to it. "A duck will appear peaceful on the surface, but its feet are moving breathlessly under the water," he said, describing the Blue House's behavior.
Underneath the calm, Seoul's government is working "restlessly" but "harmoniously."