SEOUL, Feb 26 – North Korea has built an underground fuelling 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 Thursday.
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 2008 and early this year.
The communist state, defying international warnings, said Tuesday its preparations to launch a satellite are 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.
But Pyongyang late 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 preparation time to one or two days. Fuelling previously took four or five days, according to Dong-a.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service had no comment on the report.
The North 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 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 February 3 it had launched its first domestically manufactured 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 said.
Iran "is showing its will to actively push itself into the competition for space development," it added.
The broadcaster cited many developing countries like Belarus, India, Thailand, Venezuela and Vietnam as running their own space programmes, saying North Korea is also entitled to one.
A Seoul analyst, requesting anonymity, told Yonhap that several Iranian technicians visited the North to observe the 2006 missile test-launch.