Fri, Feb 27, 2009 - Page 5 News List

N Korean fuel station confounds satellites

BEHIND THE SCENES The underground fueling station will allow the country to prepare long-range missile tests more quickly and undetected by US spy satellites

AFP , SEOUL

North Korea has built an underground fueling station at its long-range missile test site, making it harder for US spy satellites to predict the date of a launch, a news report said yesterday.

South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper, quoting intelligence sources, said Pyongyang completed the underground facility at Musudan-ri on its northeast coast sometime between late last year and early this year.

North Korea, defying international warnings, said on Tuesday its preparations to launch a satellite were making “brisk headway,” but gave no date for the exercise.

Seoul and Washington see such a launch as a pretext to test the Taepodong-2 missile, which could theoretically reach Alaska. They say a rocket launch for any purpose would violate a UN resolution passed after the last missile test.

“We presume that whatever claims North Korea makes, it will have launched a ballistic missile,” said Seoul foreign ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young, adding that there was no commercial demand for such a satellite.

Pyongyang late on Wednesday vowed “no one can stop us” from going ahead and cited Iran’s recent successful satellite launch, Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported.

The North formerly used trucks and ground facilities visible from spy satellites to fuel its missiles.

“If liquid fuel is pumped into missile projectiles at underground facilities, the North can dodge US surveillance satellites,” one source told Dong-a. “The North is now capable of conducting the most important part of preparations for a missile launch behind the scenes.”

Another intelligence source told the paper the new facilities would likely shorten the launch preparation time to one or two days. Fueling previously took four or five days, Dong-a reported.

The National Intelligence Service had no comment on the report.

North Korea test-launched a Taepodong-1 missile in 1998 from Musudan-ri and fired a Taepodong-2 in 2006 from the same site. The Taepodong-2 failed after 40 seconds, but sparked international concern and UN sanctions.

“The peaceful advance into space and its use is a just policy of our republic that matches the current times and no one can stop us from this,” the North’s state radio Korean Central Broadcasting Station said late on Wednesday.

Its statement was carried by Yonhap, which monitors the North’s broadcast media.

In the statement entitled “Everyone has the right to peaceful space use,” the North said Iran’s satellite launch “demonstrated its national power” and proved that a monopoly can no longer exist in space development.

Iran said on Feb. 3 it had launched its first domestically made satellite, prompting expressions of concern from world powers.

“The United States and Western countries are fussing around in chorus, saying Iran’s satellite launch through a carrier rocket was to develop ballistic missile technology,” the radio station said.

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