All eyes on N. Korea's 'long-range missile test'
A FLURRY of unusual activity near the eastern and western coasts of North Korea suggests the country is preparing for a ballistic missile launch, which some fear might be a long-range version that would enable Pyongyang to fire its nuclear weapon farther afield.
According to Japan's NHK public broadcaster yesterday, a mobile missile launcher has been spotted moving in North Korea's east carrying a ballistic missile, while preparation work has been detected at a long-range rocket launch pad on the west.
Pyongyang announced on Tuesday that it would launch a satellite between Feb 8 and 25, drawing sharp criticism from South Korea, Japan and the United States, reported Agence France-Presse.
The North has just conducted its fourth underground nuclear test early last month.
China also echoed the international concerns while South Korea and Japan have vowed to shoot down any missile that flies past their territories or debris that falls from it.
North Korea has always disguised its ballistic missile tests as civilian rocket launches.
According to NHK, it is likely that the launch would take place on the east side, with a missile already on a launch pad there.
It is believed the North is developing a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) called KN-08. It can be launched from the back of a truck and can potentially reach the US.
But some reports also said the missile would be from the Sohae site in the north-west and is likely to be a new and larger version of Taepodong 2.
North Korea's last long-range rocket launch was in December 2012 and it involved a Taepodong rocket, which successfully put its first satellite into orbit.
South Korean tests carried out on fragments of that rocket indicated it could reach the US.
Pyongyang announced the coming missile flight will have three parts of the rocket falling west of the Korean Peninsula, in the East China Sea southwest of the peninsula and in the Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines, respectively.
According to South Korea's defence ministry, its military might not be able to intercept the rocket as a country's vertical airspace extends to only around 100km, China's Xinhua news agency reported.
Meanwhile, the Japan Coast Guard expects the rocket to fly over the Sakishima island chain.