Pyongyang could fire missile next month

6:10:00 PM
SEOUL, -- Will North Korea launch a long-range missile around the foundation day of its ruling Workers' Party on Oct. 10? Military officials as well as experts on North Korea and national security are wondering, following the Aug. 25 South-North peacemaking agreement.

The agreement, under which South and North Korea promised to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula, was made after a four-day marathon talk between the two sides. The talk was held as tensions reached record levels after landmines exploded on Aug. 4 inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), seriously injuring two South Korean soldiers. Seoul accused Pyongyang of planting the mines in the heavily guarded zone.

The question over the North's possible provocation garnered immense interest after Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo told reporters that the possibility that the North would once again provoke the South, such as by test-firing a long-range ballistic missile or carrying out a nuclear test, would become greater after the South-North agreement.

"The assessment inside the North is that its dignity was damaged considerably due to the agreement," Baek said during an interview with Japan's Kyodo News on Aug. 31. "The South's position has not changed. If we are provoked further, we will mobilize every means possible, including resuming the loudspeaker propaganda broadcasting, to make the North pay the price."

Baek's remark apparently referred to the joint statement between the two Koreas, in which the North expressed "regret" over the landmine explosion, which South Korean government officials construed as an apology.

The repressive state usually denies the South's accusations of provocation, such as its torpedo attack against the South Korean Navy frigate Cheonan in 2010, which killed 46 sailors.

Indeed, North Korean media supported Baek's view, as it indicated that the North is preparing to launch a long-range rocket, which it calls a "peaceful satellite."

"Many (in the North) believe the South should not pour cold water on the improvement of the inter-Korean relations although we will launch the satellite," said Uriminzokkiri, a propaganda website run by the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, on Aug. 30.

The North insists that its position to continue launching peaceful satellites when necessary is unchanged.

The website also called the Aug. 4 landmine explosion a "baseless incident," indirectly denying the North's involvement in the incident despite the isolated state's expression of regret in the joint statement.

The North's recent completion of extension work at a long-range missile launching pad near its border with China also fanned speculations about its planned missile launch in October.

In July, a new 67-meter-high gantry was spotted by satellite at the Dongchang-ri site, North Pyeongan Province, which the repressive state calls the Sohae ("West Sea") Satellite Launching Station.

Pyongyang began to extend the 50-meter-high gantry in 2013, making it higher by 17 meters, according to military authorities.

The extended gantry means that the North could fire a long-range rocket bigger than the Unha-3, authorities said. The Unha-3, which allegedly put a satellite into orbit in December 2012, is a three-stage vehicle some 30 meters long, believed to be able to travel more than 10,000 kilometers, far enough to hit the western United States.

Authorities noted that the North already appears to be preparing for a large-scale parade for the anniversary day by amassing various missiles and armored vehicles in an apparent effort to show off the might of its young leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim Min-seok, spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense, said South Korea and the United States are closely monitoring the movement of the North Korean soldiers in preparation for a possible provocation.

 The North Korean Unha-3 rocket at the Tangachai-ri space centre in northwest North Korea.

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