03/16/2012 01:16 am ET Updated May 16, 2012

North Korea: Long-Range Rocket To Launch To Mark Founder's Birth

By Jack Kim and Jeremy Laurence

SEOUL, March 16 (Reuters) - North Korea said on Friday it will launch a "working" satellite to mark the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung's birth next month, prompting immediate fears from Japan it would in fact be another long-range missile launch in breach of a U.N. resolution.

In April 2009, a long-range missile test failed when its first stage fell into the Sea of Japan without orbiting a satellite, provoking outrage in Tokyo, which had threatened to shoot down any debris or rocket that threatened its territory.

Another test failed in similar circumstances in 1998.

Experts said the latest launch was clearly another long-range missile test, designed to pressure Washington into advancing stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations.

The North, which said recently it would suspend long-range missile testing as part of talks with the United States, said on Friday it had already launched two experimental satellites.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said the new launch would be a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to Jiji news service. There was no immediate comment from officials in Seoul about the latest rocket launch.

Foreign officials have also said the secretive state's past launches are disguised long-range missile tests. The North said it would be a satellite launched southwards from a base near its west coast and would have no impact on neigbhouring countries, saying the launch was for "peaceful purposes".

"The DPRK is to launch a working satellite, Kwangmyongsong-3, manufactured by itself with indigenous technology to mark the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il-sung," the North's official KCNA said, quoting a spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology.

The launch will take place between April 12-16, KCNA said. It is scheduled to occur at around the same time its foes in the South hold a parliamentary election, and just over three weeks after a global nuclear security summit in Seoul.


Pyongyang has been planning massive celebrations for years to mark Kim Il-sung's birthday on April 15, and has boasted the occasion would also mark its emergence on the international stage as a "strong and prosperous" nation.

Analysts gave a different interpretation of the launch.

"For the outside world this is the same as a long-range missile test," said Park Young-ho of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government affiliated think tank.

"This can interpreted as a means of applying pressure on the Americans in negotiations, and is a celebration of the founder's birth as well as an opportunity for the new leadership to celebrate the beginning of a new era," Park said in Seoul.

The state's new young leader Kim Jong-un, who became the third member of the Kim family to lead the state after his father Kim Jong-il's death in December, has presented a militaristic image to his countrymen since taking power.

He has visited several military sites and been seen mixing with top brass in what analysts say is a move designed to win the all-powerful army's backing for the succession process.

KCNA said the launch would be conducted from a base near its border with China, indicating it would take place at a newly constructed missile testing site believed to be larger and more advanced than the site used to launch previous rockets.

North Korea has used the name "Kwangmyongsong" to refer to what is called outside the reclusive country the "Taepodong" long-range missiles which were tested in 1998, 2006 and in 2009.

The North Korean spokesman said the launch would "offer an important occasion of putting the country's technology of space use for peaceful purposes on a higher stage".

In the 2009 launch, the North insisted the satellite made it into orbit and played revolutionary communist songs, despite officials in the United States and South Korea saying there were no indications of a satellite reaching space.

North Korea has agreed to a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests in discussions with Washington to try to resume stalled nuclear disarmament talks and win U.S. food aid. Further talks have yet to be planned.

North Korea has been developing the so-called Taepodong-2 missile with an estimated range of more than 6,000 km (3,725 miles) but was previously seen as a long way off producing a functioning means of delivering weapons of mass destruction.

The North's arsenal already includes intermediate-range missiles that can hit targets up to 3,000 km (i,865 miles) away, officials say, putting all of Japan and U.S. military bases in Guam at risk.

The U.N. Security Council adopted tough sanctions against Pyongyang in 2009 after its last rocket launch, squeezing its already troubled economy and deepening the North's isolation after the six-party disarmament talks collapsed.

The North conducted a second nuclear test around its 2009 missile launch. (Additional reporting by Jumin Park; Editing by Paul Tait)