North Korean space officials have moved all three stages of a long-range rocket into position for a controversial launch,vowing to push ahead with their plan in defiance of international warnings against violating a ban on missile activity.
The Associated Press was among foreign news agencies allowed a firsthand look Sunday at preparations under way at the coastal Sohae Satellite Station in northwestern North Korea.
North Korea announced plans last month to launch an observation satellite using a three-stage rocket during mid-April celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il-Sung. The US,Japan,Britain and other nations have urged North Korea to cancel the launch,warning that firing the long-range rocket would violate UN resolutions and North Koreas promise to refrain from engaging in nuclear and missile activity.
North Korea maintains that the launch is a scientific achievement. Experts say the Unha-3 rocket slated for liftoff between April 12 and 16 could also test long-range missile technology that might be used to strike the US and other targets.
Recent satellite images also show that North Korea is digging a new underground tunnel in what appears to be preparation for a third nuclear test,according to South Korean intelligence officials.
The excavation at North Koreas northeast Punggye-ri site,where nuclear tests were conducted in 2006 and 2009,is in its final stages,according to a report by intelligence officials that was shared Monday with The Associated Press.