North Korea says will launch 'satellite' in mid-April

North Korea said Friday that it would launch a satellite in mid-April to mark the centennial birthday of its late founder Kim Il-sung, a move that experts say is a cover for another long-range missile test.

The announcement came despite an agreement on Feb. 29 with the US to temporarily halt its uranium enrichment at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon and put a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests in exchange for 240,000 tons of "nutritional assistance."

North Korea said the Unha-3 rocket carrying Kwangmyongsong-3 will lift off from its satellite launching station in North Pyongan Province between April 12 and 16, the Korean Committee for Space Technology said in Pyongyang.

The statement by the committee's spokesperson was carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

"(We) have set a safe flight route so that the debris that could be made in the process of the satellite launch would not affect the neighboring states," it said.

"We will guarantee that we will abide by international rules and customs pertaining to the peaceful launch of the science technology satellite and secure the transparency (of its launch process.)"

Seoul's Foreign Ministry expressed "grave concern" over Pyongyang's launch plan.

"If North Korea were to proceed with the 'application satellite' launch as stated in the announcement, it would be a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 which bans 'any launch using ballistic missile technology' and would constitute a highly provocative action threatening peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," it said in a statement.

After it tested its Taepodong-2 missile in April 2009, the North also argued that it was a satellite launch.

The launch ended in failure after the rocket fell into the Pacific Ocean after traveling some 3,200 kilometers from the North's launch site of Musudanri in North Hamgyeong Province.

Experts here argued that Pyongyang's announcement on the "satellite launch" is its typical way of raising its bargaining power during negotiations with Washington over its nuclear program.

"The North apparently wants to get more food aid from the US (beyond what was agreed on last month). To get more concessions from Washington, a nuclear test is sort of too much, but a missile test under the disguise of a satellite test is what they can use now," said Lee Dae-woo, senior fellow at Sejong Institute, a local think tank.

North Korea has been preparing to declare its emergence as a "strong, prosperous nation."

It claims it has already become a strong nation militarily and ideologically, claiming that it has developed nuclear weapons and is armed with its strong ideology of Juche, or self-reliance.

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