02/13/2009, 00.00
KOREA

Pyongyang prepares to launch a missile able to carry nuclear warheads

The test could take place on February 25th the first anniversary of the mandate of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. The Taepodong-2 missile is 36 metres tall and can contain up to 500 kg of nuclear warheads. February 16th the North celebrates the 67th birthday of the “dear Leader”.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Pyongyang is assembling a Taepodong-2 missile at Musudan-ri base in North Hamgyong province, on its east coast.  The rocket is able to carry a nuclear war head and the launch could take place February 25th next to coincide with the 1st anniversary of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s instalment, the South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo reports, citing intelligence sources in Seoul.

 “We assume – the source underlines - that they are currently assembling the first and second-stage rockets”. North Korea recently transported the first and second stage of the Taepodong-2 to its missile base on a special train and has been assembling the pieces at an indoor facility to prevent spy satellites from watching.

Sources report the missile, thought to be about 36 metres tall, needs to be positioned vertically, sent to a launch pad and fuelled. It is capable of hitting Alaska and the West coast of the United States and can carry up to 500 kg of nuclear warheads.  On July 5th 2006 North Korea attempted to launch the same type of rocket but failed: the missile exploded 40 seconds after lift off.

North Korea is also preparing to launch short-range missiles near Northern Limit Line, a disputed Yellow Sea border with South Korea off the west coast.

The North will celebrate its “Dear Leader” leader Kim Jong-il's 67th birthday on Monday, who seems to have made a full recovery from the stroke he suffered August last.  Next week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make her first overseas trip: the head of US diplomacy will visit Asia and the North’s nuclear agenda will likely take top priority in talks.

 

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