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(2nd D) NK may launch long-range missile around its anniversary: Seoul

2015/09/10 17:06

(ATTN: CLARIFIES para 11; ADDS more info in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, Sept. 10 (Yonhap) -- The Defense Ministry said Thursday that North Korea may launch a long-range missile on the occasion of a key anniversary next month as the North is seen as having completed the upgrade of a missile launch facility.

Speculation is rampant that North Korea is expected to launch a long-range missile around Oct. 10, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party.

The ministry said in a report to the National Assembly that there is a possibility that the North could fire a missile to commemorate the anniversary as it is currently finishing construction at its rocket launch facility in Dongchang-ri on its west coast border.

In recent satellite imagery, a new 67-meter-tall gantry has been spotted on the site, which experts says can be used for the launch of long-range missiles twice the size of the 30-meter Unha-3 that was launched into orbit in December 2012.

Whether the North fires a long-range missile near the anniversary is under spotlight as the move will likely hamper the hard-won conciliatory mood on the Korean Peninsula.

South and North Korea reached a landmark deal on Aug. 25 to defuse military tension and make efforts to mend their long-frayed relations following the North's land-mine blasts near the border in early August.

North Korea is under heavy sanctions by the United Nations Security Council for its nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo told lawmakers that there has been no sign of a missile launch by the North so far.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said the government does not exclude the possibility of North Korea's long-range missile launch, given the unpredictability of the North's regime.

"The government is closely watching related situations," Yun said. "Seoul plans to drum up global support to encourage the North to sincerely implement the inter-Korean deal and to prevent it from making an additional provocation."

   Touching on a follow-up to the agreement, Han said that South Korea is preparing for the possibility that inter-Korean talks between ranking military officials could take place.

"Seoul is preparing for possible military talks with Pyongyang as the deal calls for holding high-level talks," the minister said.

The ministry also said it will conduct aggressive military operations near the demilitarized zone which bisects the two Koreas, where the North has frequently made provocations.

"South Korea plans to renew its military posture by taking into account the North's land-mine provocations and the outcome of joint military drills between Seoul and Washington," the ministry said. "In particular, the South plans to draw up measures to conduct aggressive military operations at the DMZ."

   It marked the first time that the government vowed to take aggressive operations near the heavily fortified border following the North's land-mine incident, which seriously injured two South Korean soldiers.

The North expressed "regret" over the incident, but it later claimed that its regret does not equal an apology, rebutting Seoul's argument that it is the equivalent of an apology by international standards.

Han said that Seoul is ready to resume the now-suspended loudspeaker campaign against Pyongyang at any time if the North makes provocations.

"We are mulling various countermeasures as the military is always ready to counter the enemy's provocation," he said.