Confusion over false alarms of missile launch

A spokesman for Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff told AFP that it did not detect radar signals indicating that North Korea had launched its controversial satellite by the announced time of 4:00 pm (9:00 am Paris time). Weather may be to blame.


AFP - North Korea kept the world guessing about when it would launch its satellite after the first period of the five-day window it has set aside ended without apparent incident Saturday.

The communist state last month told world aviation and shipping agencies that it would stage the launch sometime between April 4-8 and between 11:00am and 4:00pm (0200-0700 GMT).

A spokesman for Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff told AFP no radar signals had been detected from the Musudan-ri missile base in the northeast as of 4:00pm.

Earlier Saturday the North announced its preparations were complete and it would go ahead "soon." It said the dates and times given earlier were still in effect.

It was impossible to establish why the launch did not go ahead on the first day but Seoul experts said the weather at Musudan-ri was not ideal, with cloud and fairly strong winds.

They said the winds would abate Sunday.

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo see the launch as a disguised missile test and have vowed to report it to the UN Security Council.

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have vowed to refer a launch to the UN Security Council as a breach of a resolution passed after the North's 2006 missile and nuclear tests.

The North says that even a Council debate about its launch would lead to a breakdown of long-running six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.

It has announcd the launch for April 4-8, and between the hours of 11:00am and 4:00pm (0200-0700 GMT).

Seoul's Yonhap news agency said cameras had been set up at three different places around the launch site at Musudan-ri.

"Given that the fuelling work has been completed and then the monitoring cameras have been set up, it is very likely for the launch to be in several hours," it quoted a Seoul government source as saying.

But YTN television, quoting Seoul military sources, said the North has not yet switched on radar systems at Musudan-ri.

It said such radar signals had been detected several hours before previous launches. Seoul security officials declined comment.

The North says the first stage of the rocket will fall in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) some 75 miles (47 miles) from Japan's coast, and the second stage will plunge into the Pacific.

US President Barack Obama urged Kim Jong-Il's regime to desist.

"We have made very clear to the North Koreans that their missile launch is provocative," he said Friday in Strasbourg.

"Should North Korea decide to take this action, we will work with all interested parties in the international community to take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it can't threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity."

Obama's special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, gave an apparently softer message, saying that his goal is to resume stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks no matter what happens.

Analysts say a successful launch would give the regime a major propaganda boost amid lingering uncertainty following widespread reports that leader Kim suffered a stroke last August.

The launch aims to persuade the new US administration to open direct talks with Pyongyang, and will strengthen the regime's hand in future negotiations over its nuclear programme, analysts say.

The North tested a Taepodong-2 for the first time in July 2006 but it failed after 40 seconds.

In Seoul, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak called an emergency meeting of security-related ministers Saturday, a presidential spokesman told AFP.

China, the North's sole major ally, is thought likely to block any bid for new UN sanctions.

The Security Council could toughen the observance of existing sanctions -- banning trade in missile components, other weapons and luxury goods -- or issue a chairman's statement criticising Pyongyang.

If North Korea goes ahead, Bosworth told a Washington news conference, the United States would "consult vigorously" on what action to take.

"We believe that a defiance of a UN Security Council resolution is an action that requires that there be some consequences," Bosworth said.

But he added that the aim is to get back to the denuclearisation process as soon as possible after the "dust settles."

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