North Korea has reportedly begun fueling a rocket for a launch next month, defying calls to abort an event the West says is a disguised missile test, as the US suspended planned food aid.
“The launch is coming closer. The possibility is high that the launch date will be set for April 12 or 13,” Japan’s Tokyo Shimbun reported yesterday, quoting a source “close to the government” in Pyongyang.
It cited the source as saying that North Korea had begun injecting liquid fuel into the rocket.
South Korea’s defense ministry said on Sunday the North had transported the main body of the rocket to a site in the far northwest of the country in preparation for blast-off.
Japan’s newspapers pay close attention to North Korea and often break stories on the secretive state. South Korea’s office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it could not confirm the report.
North Korea insisted this week it would go ahead with what it calls a peaceful satellite launch, snubbing a call from US President Barack Obama to drop the plan and accusing him of a “confrontational mindset.”
The US has suspended plans to send food aid to North Korea, saying it has broken a promise to halt missile launches and cannot be trusted to give the aid to those who need it, a Pentagon official said on Wednesday.
Under a deal reached last month, North Korea agreed to a partial nuclear freeze and a missile test moratorium in return for 240,000 tonnes of US food aid.
The West and North Korea’s Asian neighbors have urged the nuclear-armed state to scrap the launch, which is seen as a pretext for testing ballistic missile technology that is banned under UN resolutions.
South Korea, China and Japan will hold talks in China next month on regional security and cooperation, and the rocket plan is certain to be discussed on the sidelines, Seoul’s foreign ministry said yesterday.
Preparations for the event “have entered a full-fledged stage of action,” Pyongyang said on Friday last week.
The Philippines yesterday reiterated concern over the threat of debris falling from the rocket, which is projected to land at sea about 180km northeast of the island of Luzon.
“Our main concern here is the debris. If it explodes in the air, where will all that metal fall? We should know so that we will be able to warn all those who could get hit,” Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said in Manila.