SEOUL • North Korea has tightened security ahead of a ruling party congress, South Korea said yesterday, with the authorities keen to avoid any "mishap" at the gathering at which advances in the drive for nuclear weapons will likely be hailed.
Thousands of delegates are expected in the capital, Pyongyang, from May 6 for the first congress in 36 years at which young leader Kim Jong Un is expected to cement his leadership and formally declare the country a nuclear-armed state.
"Strengthening security can be seen as a measure to prevent mishaps over the party congress," Mr Jeong Joon Hee, a spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, which oversees dealings with the North, told a briefing.
North Korea has in the past taken such steps ahead of major events and has at times also shut down its border with China for the same reason, he said.
North Korea announced the Workers' Party congress in October but confirmed the May 6 starting date only on Wednesday.
The Daily NK, a website run by defectors with sources in North Korea, said that since mid-April, free movement in and out of the capital has been stopped and security personnel have been summoned from the provinces to step up domestic surveillance.
The congress, expected to last four or five days, will be closely watched for any new policies and for how North Korea presents its pursuit of nuclear weapons, which has intensified since January when it conducted its fourth nuclear test.
The nuclear test was followed by a string of missile tests, though not all were successful.
On Thursday, North Korea tested what appeared to be two intermediate-range ballistic missiles but both failed, the US and South Korean militaries said.
The Musudan missile theoretically has the range to reach any part of Japan and the US territory of Guam.
At the request of the United States, the United Nations Security Council held urgent closed-door consultations on Thursday.
"We are looking at a response," China's Ambassador Liu Jieyi, who holds the Security Council presidency this month, told reporters.
South Korea and others nervously watching the North's defiance of UN resolutions aimed at curbing its nuclear and ballistic missile technologies expect another nuclear test before the congress. May 1 has been cited as a possible date.
Analysts say the North is desperate to register a successful launch ahead of next week's ruling party congress, at which leader Kim Jong Un is expected to take credit for pushing the country's nuclear programme to new heights.
North Korean authorities have enlisted people in Pyongyang and some other places in a 70-day campaign to ramp up productivity and spruce up the capital, the Daily NK reported.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE