No signs of North Korea preparing long-range rocket launch: South Korea

A file photo of a video grab showing a Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket launching at the North Korea's West Sea Satellite Launch Site on Dec 13, 2012.
A file photo of a video grab showing a Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket launching at the North Korea's West Sea Satellite Launch Site on Dec 13, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea shows no sign of preparing for a long-range rocket launch to mark a major political anniversary this week, a South Korean government official said on Tuesday (Oct 6).

His view was echoed by Mr Joel Wit, an expert at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

There has been speculation for months that the North might launch a long-range rocket to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party on Saturday.

"We don't see any signs of making preparations for an imminent launch such as the movement of a launch vehicle" to the launch pad, the unification ministry official told journalists on condition of anonymity.

"After moving components of a launch vehicle, it usually takes two to four weeks of preparations to launch."

Remarks by the head of the North's space agency had fuelled conjecture about a launch to mark the anniversary. Comments by the chief of the North's national atomic commission led to additional talk of a possible fourth nuclear test.

Pyongyang insists its space programme is purely scientific and designed to put peaceful satellites in orbit. But the US, South Korea and its allies have made it clear that any rocket launch will be deemed a test of ballistic missile technology in violation of United Nations resolutions.

"There is no evidence to support a long-range rocket launch on Oct 10," Mr Wit said on Twitter on Monday.

"North Korea could be doing things at night that we cannot watch via satellite, but most government officials agree that there will not be a launch," he said at #38NorthPress.

Citing satellite images of the North's Sohae Satellite Launching Station, the US-Korea Institute said last month on its closely watched website 38 North that a launch on or before Oct 10 was possible but unlikely.

Pyongyang successfully launched a three-stage, Unha-3 rocket carrying a satellite on Dec 12, 2012 from the Sohae launching station.

It announced the planned launch 11 days beforehand and notified neighbouring countries including Japan of the intended flight path.

That launch triggered fresh sanctions and a surge in military tensions that culminated two months later in North Korea conducting its third nuclear test.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye last month warned Pyongyang of serious consequences if it pushes forward with either a rocket launch or nuclear test.