North Korea fuels rocket amid international fears

North Korea fuels rocket amid international fears

North Korea fuels rocket amid international fears

North Korean technicians man computer terminals at North Korea’s space agency’s General Command Center on the outskirts of Pyongyang. AFP Photo

North Korea yesterday began fuelling a long-range rocket ahead of a landmark political anniversary, defying U.S. calls to cancel the launch, in a move that has raised alarm bells across East Asia despite Pyongyang’s insistence the launch is a peaceful space project.

The launch of the rocket is scheduled to occur in a five-day window starting today, coinciding with April 15’s 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il-sung. The rocket is ostensibly designed to place an observation satellite in orbit, but the United States and allies say it is in fact a ballistic missile test, in violation of a U.N. ban. “We are injecting fuel as we speak. It has started (and it) will be over in the near future,” Paek Chang-Ho, director of North Korea’s mission control center just outside Pyongyang, told foreign journalists.

Japan creates taskforce

Japan created an intelligence taskforce to study the rocket launch. “The government will continue urging North Korea to cancel the launch until the last minute while making thorough preparations,” Japan’s top government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said.

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 9 said North Korea faced a clear choice. “We are consulting closely in capitals and at the U.N. in New York and we will be pursuing appropriate action,” she said at a news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba. “If North Korea wants a peaceful, better future for their people, it should not conduct another launch that would be a direct threat to regional security,” Clinton said.