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North Korea rocket launch plan 'provocative', says US

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-03-16

North Korea angered the US, South Korea and Japan Friday by announcing plans to launch a long-range rocket mounted with a satellite. Pyongyang has been accused of using such launches as a way of testing missile technology despite a UN ban.

AFP - North Korea announced Friday it would launch a rocket carrying a satellite next month, just 16 days after agreeing to suspend long-range missile tests in return for massive US food aid.

The United States, Japan and South Korea condemned the plan and said it would breach a United Nations ban imposed after previous launches.

Blast-off will be between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung, the communist state's official news agency and state television said.

The US State Department called the proposed launch "highly provocative" and a threat to regional security.

PROFILE: KIM JONG-UN, the chosen one?

It would also be inconsistent with the announced missile test moratorium, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

The surprise February 29 deal, under which Pyongyang also promised to freeze its uranium enrichment plant, had raised hopes of eased tensions under the new regime headed by Kim Jong-Un.

But one analyst said Friday's announcement effectively killed off the agreement, under which the US was to give the hungry and impoverished nation 240,000 tonnes of food over a year.

The last long-range rocket launch on April 5, 2009, also purportedly to put a satellite into orbit, brought UN Security Council condemnation and tightened sanctions.

Pyongyang quit six-party nuclear disarmament talks in protest at the censure and conducted its second atomic weapons test the following month.

The North insists its satellite launches are for peaceful scientific purposes while the US and other nations call them disguised missile tests.

UN Security Council Resolution 1874, passed after the North's second nuclear test, demands that it "not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology".

"The same people are in control"

South Korea's foreign ministry said any launch would breach the resolution and be a "grave, provocative act".

Japan, whose airspace was overflown by the 2009 rocket, also said a launch would violate UN decrees and it would "strongly demand self-restraint".

China, the North's main economic benefactor, urged "all parties to play a constructive role" in keeping peace on the peninsula.

The North said a Unha-3 rocket will launch a home-built polar-orbiting earth observation satellite known as Kwangmyongsong-3.

Repeating its arguments of 2009, it said such satellites assist economic development and are in line with the peaceful use of space.

The launch "will greatly encourage the army and people... in the building of a thriving nation", it added, as it prepares a mass celebration for the April 15 centenary and the young Kim tries to burnish his image as a strong leader.

"A safe flight orbit has been chosen so that carrier rocket debris to be generated during the flight would not have any impact on neighbouring countries," it said.

The North said the rocket would be launched southward from a new site it has been developing at Tongchang-ri in the northwest tip of the country.

The Unha-3 is known outside the North as the Taepodong-3 and is theoretically capable of reaching US territory, said Baek Seung-Joo of the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses.

"Following the alleged satellite launch attempt in 2009, this is another ploy to heap pressure on the United States by conducting a test-launch of a rocket which can easily be converted to weapons use," said Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.

"It also wants to show off to the world it has become a strong state with technological and military prowess as it enters a new era under Jong-Un and marks the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-Sung," Yang told AFP.

Kim Jong-Un is Kim Il-Sung's grandson. He took over the leadership after his own father Kim Jong-Il died on December 17.

Kim Yong-Hyun, of Seoul's Dongguk University, said the North would insist its launch was for peaceful scientific purposes and unrelated to the missile test moratorium.

"The US will, of course, make a strong response, regarding it as a long-range missile launch," he told AFP, adding it was unclear whether it would derail negotiations.

But Daniel Pinkston, Seoul-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the announcement means the February agreement with the United States "is pretty much dead".

Such rockets, he told AFP, are "inherently dual-use technology: if you can launch a satellite you can deliver a warhead at long range".

The launch will come just after South Korea's April 11 general election. The North bitterly opposes the ruling conservative party, which scrapped the aid and engagement policy of previous liberal governments.

Date created : 2012-03-16

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