North Korea readies missile launch platform-reports
SEOUL, June 17 (Reuters) North Korea has moved key components of a long-range missile to a launch pad as well as 10 large liquid-gas tanks to fuel it, a South Korean newspaper reported today, citing government officials.
In a separate report, South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted diplomatic sources in Seoul as saying a missile test could come as early as omorrow or Monday.
The United States has warned Pyongyang against conducting a ''provocative'' intercontinental missile test after US officials said there were signs a launch could take place as early as this weekend.
The South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo cited a South Korean government official as saying North Korea has deployed its long-range Taepodong-2 missile to a launch pad and has been testing components of the launch platform.
''North Korea is testing operations of the missile launch pad,'' the paper cited an official as saying. They could not tell if a possible launch was imminent or not.
The officials said the data came from spy satellite images analysed by US and South Korean officials.
''We take it very seriously that this is a grave and provocative action that the North Koreans are contemplating and we hope that they will turn back from launching a missile,'' US ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer told reporters after meeting Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso.
He said he did not know when a possible launch may be.
''There are indications that the North Koreans are preparing to launch a missile and beyond that I don't want to go into any specific details,'' Schieffer added.
Yonhap quoted one diplomatic official as saying, ''There is a possibility the North Korea may test missiles on 18 or 19. South Korea, the United States and Japan see the possibility of a test is higher than the other way around.'' South Korean government officials were not immediately available for comment. Seoul has warned North Korea not to test, saying a launch would create grave concern for regional security.
The launch, expected to involve a Taepodong-2 missile with an estimated range of 3,500 to 4,300 km could come as early as this weekend, US officials said. Other experts have said the missile can travel as far as 6,000 km.
Separately, Japan's Kyodo news agency said the North may say that it had put a satellite into orbit after it carries out the missile test in a bid to deflect international criticism.
Quoting military intelligence sources in a report out of Beijing, Kyodo said North Korean scientists have been working to determine a satellite orbit since earlier this year.
When North Korea shocked the world in 1998 by firing a Taepodong-1 missile that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean, Pyongyang claimed that it was not a missile firing, but rather a rocket launch that had put a satellite into orbit.
REUTERS SHB VV1756