North Korea to launch space rocket
Seoul - North Korea announced on Friday it would launch a long-range rocket in April to put a satellite into orbit, a move that would breach a UN 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 North's last long-range rocket launch on April 5 2009, purportedly of a satellite, brought UN Security Council condemnation and a tightening of sanctions.
Pyongyang quit six-party nuclear disarmament talks in protest at the censure and conducted a second atomic weapons test the following month.
The announcement came just 16 days after the North's new leaders agreed to suspend long-range missile tests as part of a deal under which it would receive 240 000 tons of US food aid.
That deal, under which Pyongyang also promised to freeze its uranium enrichment plant, had raised hopes of eased tensions under the new leadership.
The North maintains that its satellite launches are for peaceful purposes while the US and other nations say they are disguised missile tests.
An Unha-3 rocket will launch a home-built polar-orbiting earth observation satellite known as Kwangmyongsong-3, a spokesperson for the Korean Committee for Space Technology said in a statement.
Repeating its arguments of 2009, the North said such satellites are indispensable for economic development and 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.
"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, promising to abide by international regulations.
The North said the rocket would be launched southward from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Cholsan county, North Pyongan province on its west coast.
It has been developing a new launch site at Tongchang-ri in the county.
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 said.
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, a professor at 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 said, adding it was unclear whether it would derail negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.
"The launch reflects the North's desire to take the upper hand in negotiations with Washington and extract more concessions," Kim said, adding the new leader may use it to strengthen solidarity among its people.
Paik Hak-Soon of the Sejong Institute think-tank said Jong-Un may have considered it important to celebrate the anniversary and demonstrate his revolutionary lineage and leadership, despite the diplomatic stir the launch would create.
The move "throws a wrench" into US efforts to stop the North coming to the fore in an election year, Paik said.
"The US will see it as a breach of the February agreement, but the North will say it has every right to launch a satellite as a sovereign state."
UN Resolution 1718, passed after the North's first nuclear test in October 2006, demands that it not conduct any further nuclear test or launch a ballistic missile.