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US warning as spy satellites spot signs of long-range test

US spy satellites have spotted signs that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea may be preparing to transport another long-range missile to a test launch site, Republic of Korea officials said yesterday.

The United States defense secretary, meanwhile, issued his harshest warning to North Korea since its recent nuclear test.

"We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in Asia or on us," US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a regional defense meeting in Singapore.

He said, North Korea's nuclear program was a "harbinger of a dark future," but wasn't yet a direct threat.

Since last Monday's nuclear blast, North Korea has test-launched six short-range missiles in a show of force and announced it wouldn't honor a 1953 truce ending fighting in the Korean War.

According to a South Korean Defense Ministry official, North Korea appears to be preparing to move a long-range missile by train from a weapons factory near Pyongyang to its Musudan-ni launch pad. Images of the movements were captured by US satellites, the official said.

North Korea will need about two weeks to complete launch preparations, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. Officials in Washington said on Friday that they had noticed indications of increased activity at the missile test site.

Yonhap said the size of the missile was similar to a long-range rocket North Korea tested in April.

US experts have said the three-stage rocket has a potential range of more than 6,700 kilometers, putting Alaska within striking distance.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, said the DPRK is likely to fire the missile shortly after the United Nations Security Council adopts a resolution criticizing its recent nuclear test.

A partial draft resolution seen by the Associated Press calls on all countries to enforce sanctions imposed after North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006.

The sanctions include a partial arms embargo, a ban on luxury goods and ship searches for illegal weapons or material. They have been sporadically implemented, with many of the 192 UN member states ignoring them.

The draft would also have the Security Council condemn "in the strongest terms" the recent nuclear test "in flagrant violation and disregard" of the 2006 resolution.

Meanwhile, the first of 12 US F-22 fighter jets landed on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa yesterday. The arrival of the top-of-the line aircraft at Kadena air force base comes after US President Barack Obama reassured Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso of Washington's commitment to the defence of its Asian ally.

"The deployment underscores the US commitment to Japan as a vital regional partner and signals US resolve to ensure stability and security throughout the Pacific region," the US Air Force said in a statement.

The aircraft, known as Raptors, are set to be deployed in the region for four months. Okinawa is host to the bulk of roughly 50,000 US military personnel based in Japan.

Despite the rising tensions, the atmosphere was calm yesterday at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.

The area is a cluster of blue huts inside the DMZ that is jointly administered by the US-led United Nations Command and North Korea to supervise the cease-fire.


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