N Korea ‘ready for rocket launch’
Preparations in North Korea for a satellite launch are complete and lift-off will take place “soon”, state media have reported.
A rocket was ready to lift an experimental communications satellite from a base on the country’s east coast, state news agency KCNA said.
Pyongyang’s neighbours suspect the launch is a cover for a missile test and have urged it not to go ahead.
Correspondents say it remains unclear when exactly the launch will be.
Observers say North Korea is very likely to stick to this commitment, firing the rocket at the first sign of good weather conditions during the given times.
Monitoring equipment had been set up at the launch pad, indicating the rocket could be fired within hours, South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted officials as saying.
South Korea said it had convened a meeting of a special task-force, while security chiefs in Japan were said to be on stand-by. The US, Japan and South Korea have deployed warships with radar to seas off North Korea to monitor the launch.
Japan’s government at one point said that North Korea was believed to have launched a rocket, but later retracted the statement saying the information was incorrect.
“Preparations for launching Kwangmyongsong-2, an experimental communications satellite, by carrier rocket Unha-2 have been completed at the satellite launching ground in the east coastal area of the DPRK (North Korea),” KCNA said.
“The satellite will be launched soon,” it added.
In recent days satellite images have shown activity at the Musudan-ri site and the rocket positioned upright on the launch pad.
North Korea says it is pursuing peaceful space development, but its neighbours believe it could be planning to test a new long-range weapon.
They suspect the launch is a cover for a test of the Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, which could put parts of the US within reach of the communist state.
Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have all criticised the launch plan, which would violate UN resolutions.
Earlier this week, US President Barack Obama and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak said a “stern, united response” would follow any rocket launch by North Korea.
Japan, meanwhile, has said it will shoot down the rocket if it misfires and endangers Japanese territory. It has sent two destroyers equipped with missile interceptor technology into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
North Korea’s military has threatened immediate retaliation if “even the slightest effort” is made to intercept its rocket.
The secretive country first test-fired a Taepodong-2 missile in July 2006. The missile failed shortly after launch and crashed into the sea.
Three months later it carried out a nuclear test. Talks between North Korea and five other nations – China, Russia, South Korean, the US and Japan – on an aid-for-disarmament deal are currently stalled.
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