US 'Surprised' by Volleyball Game at North Korea Nuclear Site

Satellite images taken at the weekend of the Punggye-ri site in the country's mountainous north-east, showed little human activity to suggest North Korea was preparing to conduct a nuclear test.

Intense US surveillance of North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site, from which US officials have speculated that a nuclear weapons test could be imminent, have revealed a series of intramural volleyball games underway among troops stationed on the site.

"It suggests that the facility might be going into a standby mode", said Joseph Bermudez, a North Korea expert and an analyst for the Washington-based 38 North. Or, given that North Korean authorities are aware of when commercial satellites are flying overhead, it could have been a simple act of mischief meant to confuse the outside world.

Just one week ago, the monitoring agency said the site was "primed and ready" for a sixth nuclear test.

The United States on Tuesday sent a nuclear sniffer aircraft to fly over the east of the Korean Peninsula to monitor radioactivity levels amid the increased likelihood of another North Korean nuclear test, media reported citing a South Korean government source. The games could also signal a "tactical pause", per CNN.

Bermudez said Sunday's images of the Punggye-ri site showed indications of some minor dumping from mine carts - a sign of tunneling work - but no active pumping of water out of the tunnel system used for nuclear testing.

There had been speculation that leader Kim Jong-un could order a nuclear test to coincide with celebrations to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founding president, Kim Il-sung, last Saturday.

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