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N Korea to launch satellite in first week of April: Seoul

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File photo of Pyongyang's long range Taepodong missile. Wikipedia image

SEOUL (BNS): North Korea notified International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), on Thursday, that it will launch a ‘satellite’ between April 4 to 8, a South Korean official confirmed here. This follows weeks of intelligence-based speculation that North Korea was preparing to launch a long-range missile from a base on its east coast.

Kim Hae-gwang, an official at the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, said that they had received information from the IMO about North Korea’s planned launch of an experimental communications satellite and the zones to be affected.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an official said that the two launch coordinates named by North Korea are in the East Sea and in the Pacific. South Korea’s news agency, Yonhap quoted a diplomatic source as saying that the North Korea will direct the rocket above the East Sea, the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

Though there are no immediate signs of a launch, a source said that North Korea may complete preparations within a week or two and most probably launch it early next month.

Yonhap reported that North Korea's announcement did not specify when the launch would take place. The announcement also said North Korea has joined two international treaties for space development -- the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.

Meanwhile, the North's Korean Central News Agency reported that Pyongyang's accession to the said treaty and convention will contribute to promoting international confidence and boosting cooperation in scientific research into space and the satellite launch for peaceful purposes.

An analyst with Sejong Institute here, Paik Hak-soon, an analyst with the independent Sejong Institute in Seoul, said North Korea is taking a safe route by following international procedures. If successful, the launch will virtually declare North Korea, which conducted its first atomic test in 2006, a nuclear state that has both nuclear weapons and the means to launch them. “Through this process of notification, it is trying to avoid a bad image as well as international sanctions,” Paik said.

The analyst said that April is a special month for North Korea as it celebrates a series of important events. Leader Kim Jong-il was appointed chairman of the National Defence Commission, the highest decision-making body that oversees the country's 1.19-million strong military, on April 9, 1993. North Korea’s special day is April 15, birthday of its founder Kim Il-sung.

Yonhap reported that the US and Japanese military officials are weighing whether to shoot down the North Korean rocket. Earlier, the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates hinted that Washington would intercept a North Korean ballistic missile should one approach its territory. But Dennis Blair, US director of national intelligence, said in a Senate hearing at the beginning of this week that the North Koreans announced that they were going to do a space launch, and it may be true.

South Korean officials said the launch, whether it is a satellite or a missile, would violate a UN Security Council resolution banning the North’s ballistic missile activity. The resolution was adopted after its nuclear and missile tests in 2006.

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told a Parliament committee on Thursday that based on cooperation with pertinent nations Seoul would continue to urge Pyongyang to suspend its tension-raising activities, including a missile launch. South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae repeated its call on Pyongyang to halt the rocket launch preparations.

“Whether it is a satellite or a missile, the test itself is a grave threat to the country and the international community because they both use the same technology,” an official said, requesting anonymity.

Meanwhile, media reports quoted a Russian foreign ministry source as saying that North Korea had joined a 1967 treaty on the peaceful use of space. “The foreign ministry of Russia ... On March 5 received a notification and note on the accession of the DPRK (North Korea) to the space treaty,” the source was quoted as saying by the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti.

Russia is one of the depository governments of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space.

The official North Korean news agency KCNA said that Pyongyang’s accession to the said treaty and convention will contribute to promoting international confidence and boosting cooperation in the scientific research into space and the satellite launch for peaceful purposes.

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