NORTH Korea announced yesterday it would attempt to launch a long-range rocket this month.
The move comes just eight months after a failed April launch was widely condemned as a violation of a United Nations’ ban on developing its nuclear and missile programmes.
The launch, set to take place between 10 and 22 December, is likely to heighten already strained tensions with Washington and Seoul as the United States prepares for Barack Obama’s second term as American president and South Korea holds its own presidential election on 19 December.
This would be North Korea’s second launch attempt under leader Kim Jong-un, who took power following his father Kim Jong-il’s death almost one year ago. The announcement by North Korea’s space agency followed speculation overseas about stepped-up activity at North Korea’s west coast launch-pad captured in satellite imagery.
A spokesman for North Korea’s Korean Committee for Space Technology said scientists have “analysed the mistakes” made in the failed April launch and improved the precision of its Unha rocket and Kwangmyongsong satellite.
The space agency said the rocket would be mounted with a polar-orbiting Earth observation satellite, and maintained North Korea’s right to develop a peaceful space programme.
Washington considers North Korea’s rocket launches to be veiled covers for tests of technology for long-range missiles designed to strike the United States, and such tests are banned by the UN.
North Korea has capable short and medium-range missiles, but long-range launches in 1998, 2006, 2009 and in April of this year ended in failure.
It is believed to have enough weaponised plutonium for at least half a dozen bombs, according to US experts, and in 2010 revealed a uranium enrichment programme that could provide a second source of material for nuclear weapons.