Intelligence agencies believe they spotted missile parts being transported, according to South Korean media, after regime boasted of upcoming launch
North Korea may be preparing to test-launch an upgraded prototype of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), South Korea has warned.
In his new years speech the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, boasted a test launch would happen soon and state media has said a launch could come at any time. Experts on the regimes missile programme believe the claims to be credible.
That test launch could coincide with the inauguration of Donald Trump as president on Friday, South Korean media said.
South Korean intelligence agencies had spotted what looked like the lower half of an ICBM being transported, said the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, citing military sources.
It was different from a conventional Musudan missile in its length and shape, the source told the Chosun Ilbo. The Musudan is an intermediate-range missile tested by North Korea in 2016.
It is possible they were moving it somewhere for assembly, the source said.
North Korea has in the past paraded mockups of a road-hauled missile believed to be an ICBM design that has been dubbed KN-08 by outside observers. It is also believed to have an upgraded version of the missile, known as the KN-14.
A road-hauled ICBM, which could be kept hidden or moving until it was fired, would make the job of tracking and stopping a North Korean missile launch much more difficult.
The suspected ICBM spotted by South Korea was made up of two parts under 15 metres (49ft) long, and was shorter than the KN-08 and KN-14, the Yonhap News Agency said, also citing military sources.
In 2016 North Korea conducted a test of an ICBM engine made up of a cluster of smaller rockets.
The Washington-based thinktank 38 North said on Thursday that operations at North Koreas Yongbyon nuclear facility may have restarted. North Korea is believed to be able to reprocess plutonium at Yongbyon for nuclear warheads.
38 North said a lack of snow on the roof of the facility visible in satellite imagery indicated the building was being heated and therefore in operation.