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North Korea appears to be preparing to test an advanced missile designed to reach the United States, a U.S. official said yesterday, ratcheting up tensions after its second underground nuclear test.

The reclusive Communist country also reportedly bolstered its defences and conducted amphibious assault exercises along its western shore, near disputed waters where deadly naval clashes with the South have occurred in the past decade.

Satellite images and other intelligence indicated the North had transported its most advanced long-range missile to the new Dongchang-ni facility near China.

It could be ready to be fired in the next week or so, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.