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North Korea starts fueling its rocket

THE People's Democratic Republic of Korea has begun fueling a long-range rocket and could launch it by the weekend, CNN said, with the United States and others threatening punishment for a move they say violates United Nations resolutions.

Pyongyang has said it will send a satellite into orbit from April 4 to 8, but the US, Japan and the Republic of Korea say the launch is a disguised test of the long-range Taepodong-2 missile.

Senior US military officials quoted by broadcaster CNN said the fueling indicates the rocket could be ready to launch by the weekend.

A US official said, after a meeting between President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of the G20 in London, it looked like North Korea would proceed with the launch but Washington was trying to persuade Pyongyang to stop.

The two leaders agreed the launch will violate Security Council resolutions, the senior US official said.

"We have been making maximum efforts to try to dissuade them and still hope that they may change their minds," the official said.

Japan has sent missile-intercepting ships along the rocket's flight path, which takes it over Japan, and said it could shoot down any debris, such as falling booster stages, that threatens to strike its territory.

"If Japan recklessly 'intercepts' the DPRK's satellite for peaceful purposes, the Korean People's Army will mercilessly deal deadly blows not only at the already deployed intercepting means but at major targets," a DPRK military spokesman was quoted as saying yesterday by North Korea's KCNA news agency.

The DPRK has deployed the newest jet fighters in its aging air force near the launch site to prepare for any contingencies, South Korea's biggest daily Chosun Ilbo quoted government sources as saying.

South Korea's transport ministry ordered its domestic airlines to stay out of the rocket's flight zone on April 4-8, which will affect about 20 flights a day.

The US, Japan and South Korea say they see no difference between a satellite and a missile launch because they use the same rocket, the Taepodong-2, which exploded shortly into its only test flight in July 2006.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso said the launch "is a provocative act which undermines the peace and stability not only of Northeast Asia, including Japan, but also of the international community".

UN Security Council resolutions reached after the Taepodong-2 test in July 2006 and the North's only nuclear test a few months later ban the DPRK from ballistic missile testing and halt most of its weapons trading.

Any attempt to punish North Korea will infuriate Pyongyang, which has also threatened to restart a plant that makes arms-grade plutonium and quit nuclear disarmament talks if the UN takes action.


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