South Korea's foreign ministry said any launch would breach the resolution and be a "grave, provocative act".

Japan, whose airspace was crossed by the 2009 rocket, also said a launch would violate UN decrees and it would "strongly demand self-restraint".

Chinese vice foreign minister Zhang Zhijun met Ji Jae-Ryong, Pyongyang's ambassador, on Friday to express Beijing's worries, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"We sincerely hope parties concerned stay calm and exercise restraint," Zhang was quoted as saying. China is the North's main economic benefactor.

Fellow UN Security Council permanent member Russia also voiced concern and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on North Korea not to carry out the rocket launch. A spokesman said Ban was "seriously concerned".

The North said a Unha-3 rocket will launch a home-built polar-orbiting earth observation satellite known as Kwangmyongsong-3.

Repeating its arguments of 2009, it said such satellites assist economic development and are in line with the peaceful use of space.

The launch "will greatly encourage the army and people... in the building of a thriving nation", it added, as it prepares a mass celebration for the April 15 centenary and the young Kim tries to burnish his image as a strong leader.

"A safe flight orbit has been chosen so that carrier rocket debris to be generated during the flight would not have any impact on neighbouring countries," it said.

The North said the rocket would be launched southward from a new site it has been developing at Tongchang-ri on the northwest tip of the country.

The Unha-3 is known outside the North as the Taepodong-3 and is theoretically capable of reaching US territory, said Baek Seung-Joo of the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses.

Kim Yong-Hyun, of Seoul's Dongguk University, said the North would insist its launch was for peaceful scientific purposes and unrelated to the missile test moratorium.

But Daniel Pinkston, Seoul-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the announcement means the February agreement with the United States "is pretty much dead".

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