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North Korea launches rocket in defiance of critics

Published on Dec 12, 2012 10:46 AM
 
A North Korean soldier standing guard in front of an Unha-3 rocket at Tangachai-ri space centre on April 8, 2012. -- PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL/TOKYO (REUTERS) - Isolated and impoverished North Korea launched its second long-range rocket of 2012 on Wednesday and may have finally succeeded in putting a satellite into space, the stated aim of what critics say is a disguised ballistic missile test.

The rocket was launched just before 10am Korean time (9am Singapore time) and overflew the Japanese island of Okinawa. Its April rocket launch was aborted after less than two minutes flight.

Both South Korea and Japan called meetings of their top security councils after the launch. Japanese television station NHK said the second stage of the rocket had crashed into seas off the Philippines as planned.

It was not immediately clear if the third stage carrying the satellite had made it into space.

There was no immediate announcement from North Korea on the launch. It made a formal announcement when the April launch had failed, but has previously claimed that it put a satellite into space in 2009, something no one has been able to verify.

“We will convene an emergency security meeting at 10.30am. The launch was made around 9.50am,” an official at South Korea’s presidential office in Seoul said.

The North launched the rocket close to the first anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong Il and as elections loom in South Korea and Japan.
Pyongyang says it is entitled to launch a satellite into space but critics say the rocket development is aimed at nurturing the kind of technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

North Korea is banned from conducting missile and nuclear-related tests under UN sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

The rocket’s path was scheduled to pass between the Korean peninsula and China, with a second stage splashing down off the Philippines before launching the satellite into orbit.

Most political analysts believe the launch is designed to bolster the credentials of new leader Kim Jong-un as he cements his rule over the country of 22 million people.

A government official in Seoul said recently that the transition of power to Kim Jong Un did not appear to be going as smoothly as anticipated and there were signs that the regime was concerned over the possibility of rising dissent.

Mr Kim is the third of his line to rule North Korea, whose national output is around one-fortieth of that of prosperous South Korea.

Plans for the launch had drawn criticism from South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States as well as Nato and the United Nations.

The North’s only major diplomatic ally, China, has expressed “deep concern” over the launch but is thought unlikely to back any further sanctions against its ally.

Background story

Key dates in North Korea's missile programme:

Late 1970s: Starts working on a version of the Soviet Scud-B (range 300 km). Test-fired in 1984.

1987-92: Begins developing variant of Scud-C (500 km), Rodong-1 (1,300 km), Taepodong-1 (2,500 km), Musudan-1 (3,000 km) and Taepodong-2 (6,700 km).

Aug 1998: Test-fires Taepodong-1 over Japan as part of failed satellite launch.

Sept 1999: Declares moratorium on long-range missile tests amid improving ties with US.

July 12, 2000: Fifth round of US-North Korean missile talks ends in Kuala Lumpur without agreement after North demands US$1 billion a year in return for halting missile exports.

Dec 2002: 15 North Korean-made Scuds seized on Yemen-bound ship.

March 3, 2005: Ends moratorium on long-range missile testing, blames Bush administration’s “hostile” policy.

July 5, 2006: Test-fires seven missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 which explodes after 40 seconds.

July 15, 2006: UN Security Council adopts Resolution 1695, demanding halt to all ballistic missile activity and banning trade in missile-related items with the North.

Oct 9, 2006: North conducts underground nuclear test, its first.

Oct 14, 2006: Security Council approves Resolution 1718, demanding a halt to missile and nuclear tests. Bans the supply of items related to the programmes and of other weapons.

April 5, 2009: North Korea launches long-range rocket which flies over Japan and lands in the Pacific, in what it says is an attempt to put a satellite into orbit. The United States, Japan and South Korea see it as a disguised test of a Taepodong-2.

April 13, 2009: UN Security Council unanimously condemns April 5 launch, agrees to tighten existing sanctions. North quits nuclear disarmament talks in protest and vows to restart its plutonium programme.

May 25, 2009: North conducts its second underground nuclear test, several times more powerful than the first.

June 12, 2009: Security Council passes Resolution 1874, imposing tougher sanctions on the North’s atomic and ballistic missile programmes.

July 4, 2009: North test-fires seven ballistic missiles off its east coast.

Feb 18, 2011: Satellite images show the North has completed a launch tower at its new west coast missile base at Tongchang-ri, experts say.

May 15, 2011: North Korea and Iran are suspected of sharing ballistic missile technology, according to a UN sanctions report, diplomats say.

March 16, 2012: North Korea announces it will launch a long-range rocket between April 12-16 to put a satellite into orbit.

April 13, 2012: Rocket is launched from the Tongchang-ri base but disintegrates soon after blast-off and falls into the ocean.

Dec 1, 2012: North Korea announces it will launch another rocket in December, triggering condemnation from its foes and concern from ally China. 

Dec 9, 2012: Pyongyang says the launch may be delayed, as analysts say technical problems or snow may be hampering preparations.

Dec 12, 2012: North Korea launches the multi-stage rocket. Japan says it passed over its southern island chain of Okinawa but it did not attempt an interception.

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