TOKYO • North Korea may be preparing a long-range ballistic missile launch, Japanese media has said, following a nuclear test this month that raised international alarm and sparked a diplomatic clash between Washington and Beijing.
Images collected over the past several days suggested the launch from the western Dongchang-ri site could come in about a week,Kyodo News said yesterday, citing a Japanese government source it did not identify.
Increased movements of people and vehicles were seen around the launch site, which has now apparently been covered over, national broadcaster NHK said, citing a source familiar with Japan-South Korea relations.
The development parallels events in December 2012, when Pyongyang put a satellite into orbit with its Unha-3 carrier. Eight days before the 2012 launch, the North also put up a covering over the facility to hide the work from the view of satellites, NHK said.
"As a government, we are very interested in North Korea's motives regarding the missile, and we are gathering information and working to analyse it as usual," Japan's Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda said at a regular briefing yesterday.
"But I decline to comment on the nature of the details of this specific information."
South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok declined to confirm or deny the Japanese reports, saying the ministry did not comment on intelligence matters.
He added, however, that South Korea's military was looking out for any signs of a long-range missile launch.
"In the past, North Korea always fired a long-range missile ahead of a nuclear test. But since it didn't this time, we are concerned that it could launch one" afterwards, Mr Kim said.
He also stressed that Pyongyang used to notify China and the US before carrying out nuclear tests, but this time it did not.
"We believe that North Korea could launch grave provocations by surprise - without pre-warning - from now on," he said.
North Korea is banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology, although repeated small-range missile tests have gone unpunished.
The reported preparation of a missile launch came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity over possible further sanctions against Pyongyang for conducting its fourth nuclear test earlier this month.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG