|In a photo taken on March 15, 2016, US soldiers of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit infantry take part in a live fire drill during an exercise entitled 'Ssang Yong', near the ROK's southeastern port city of Pohang. (Ed Jones / AFP)|
SEOUL/BEIJING – The Republic of Korea said on Friday it was on heightened alert ahead of another important anniversary in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with a large concentration of military hardware amassed on both sides of the border amid concerns about a new nuclear test by Pyongyang.
US and the ROK officials have been saying for weeks that the North could soon stage another nuclear test in violation of United Nations sanctions, something both the United States and China have warned against.
The DPRK marks the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People's Army on Tuesday, a key anniversary that comes at the end of major winter military drills, the ROK’s Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng said.
The ROK and the United States have also been conducting annual joint military exercises, which the North routinely criticizes as a prelude to invasion.
"It is a situation where a lot of (military) exercise equipment is amassed in North Korea and also a lot of strategic assets are situated on the Korean peninsula because of the South Korea-US military drills," Lee told a briefing.
"We are closely watching the situation and will not be letting our guards down," Lee said.
US President Donald Trump praised Chinese efforts to rein in "the menace of the DPRK" on Thursday, after DPRK state media warned the United States of a "super-mighty preemptive strike".
Trump told a news conference "some very unusual moves have been made over the last two or three hours", and that he was confident Chinese President Xi Jinping would "try very hard" to pressure Beijing's neighbor over its nuclear and missile programs.
Trump gave no indication of what the moves might be.
Tensions have risen sharply in recent months after the DPRK conducted two nuclear weapons tests last year and carried out a steady stream of ballistic missile tests.
The country's military will mark the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army on Tuesday amid speculation Pyongyang will use the occasion to test-launch a ballistic missile or conduct a nuclear test.
The joint US-ROK military drills are due to finish at the end of April.