North Korea May Be Planning Rocket Test, Satellite Operator Says

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SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea has stepped up what could be preparations to launch a new rocket from its northwestern launching station in defiance of a United Nations ban, the satellite operator DigitalGlobe said Tuesday, citing recent satellite imagery of the facility.

The increased activities at Sohae Space Launch Station in North Korea came months after the Unha-3 rocket, launched from the same site in April, disintegrated shortly after takeoff and failed to put what North Korea claimed was a scientific satellite into orbit.

The United States and its allies condemned the launching as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that banned North Korea from testing technology that could be used to develop long-range ballistic missiles.

The April launching led to the collapse of a February deal under which the United States promised to ship humanitarian aid in return for the North's agreement to suspend nuclear and missile tests and uranium enrichment, and to allow United Nations monitors back into its main nuclear complex. North Korea has since vowed to continue to launch rockets carrying satellites.

In a post on its Web site, DigitalGlobe cited satellite imagery taken last Friday to report "a marked increase in activity" at the North Korean launching site on the country's west coast near China.

"This activity is consistent with launch preparations" before the failed April launching, it said. "Given the observed level of activity noted of a new tent, trucks, people and numerous portable fuel/oxidizer tanks -- should North Korea desire -- it could possibly conduct its fifth satellite launch event during the next three weeks."

North Korea, which carried out nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, considers itself a nuclear power. But there is doubt over its ability to deliver a nuclear payload atop its ballistic missiles. Since 1998, it has launched several long-range rockets, which the United States considered a cover for testing long-range missile technology. They all exploded in midair or failed in their stated purpose of putting satellites into orbit.

The activities at the North Korean launching site come as South Korea is preparing for a presidential election on Dec. 19. Japan is also scheduled to hold legislative elections election on Dec. 16, and President Obama will be inaugurated for his second term in January.

In the past, when there were changes of governments in the region, North Korea has often tried to draw attention to its nuclear and missile threats in a tactic that analysts believed was aimed at forcing the new governments to engage North Korea and possibly offer concessions. In the past, North Korea was also accused of using military provocations to influence elections in the South.

The Japanese newspaper Asahi reported last week that American intelligence analysts had detected moves that were seen as preparations for a long-range rocket launching by North Korea. It said that cargo that appeared to be missile parts was moved in early November from a weapons factory in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to an assembly plant at the missile launching base, commonly known as Tongchang-ri, the town where it is located.

This month, 38 North, a Web site affiliated with the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, cited satellite imagery that it said indicated that North Korea has been testing rocket engines there.

Both the United States and South Korea said they were closely watching the site, and they urged the North to refrain from testing long-range missiles.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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