North Korea announces December rocket launch

North Korea said Saturday it would carry out a new rocket launch this month, following a failure in April that was condemned by the international community as a disguised ballistic missile test.

The launch is scheduled to take place between December 10 and 22, the Korean Committee for Space Technology announced in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The announcement is sure to draw fresh condemnation, particularly from the United States, Japan and the United Nations, and rack up tensions with South Korea which holds presidential elections on December 19.

As in April, the North said the launch of the Unha-3 rocket would be a purely "peaceful, scientific" mission aimed at placing a polar-orbiting earth observation satellite into orbit.

Washington and Seoul insist the launches are disguised tests for developing an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

They say the Unha-3 rocket is actually a three-stage variant of the Taepodong-2 ICBM that the North has been developing for years but has never tested successfully.

Saturday's announcement ended weeks of intense speculation, based on satellite image analysis, that the North was preparing a fresh launch from its Sohae satellite launch station.

On Thursday the UN Security Council had cautioned Pyongyang against going ahead with another launch, saying it would be "extremely inadvisable".

The North's statement said scientists had analysed April's failure -- when the rocket exploded after take-off -- "and deepened the work of improving the reliability and precision of the satellite and carrier rocket".

The April launch put a halt to the latest international effort to engage North Korea, with the United States calling off plans to deliver badly needed food assistance.

The KCNA statement said the December mission would "fully comply" with relevant international regulations governing satellite launches.

"A safe flight path has been chosen so that parts of the carrier rocket that might fall during the launch process would not affect neighbouring countries," it said.

The announcement came just days after South Korea had been scheduled to carry out its own satellite launch in a bid to join the global space club.

The South's launch was postponed at the last minute due to a technical problem and a new mission date has yet to be finalised.

Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul suggested the launch was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un assuming power following the death of his father Kim Jong-Il on December 17.

"It plans to launch the rocket as a kind of celebratory firework," Yang said.

"North Korea lost face when it failed with the April attempt and Kim Jong-Un thinks amends need to be made," he added.

US analysts such as Scott Snyder, a senior fellow of Korea studies at the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR), note that Pyongyang is particularly sensitive to what it sees as a double standard on missile and rocket testing.

"The fact that South Korea is able to pursue such launches while North Korea is prohibited from doing the same under UN Security Council Resolutions, is perceived in North Korea as exhibit number one of a discriminatory US policy," Snyder wrote recently on the CFR website.

A North Korean soldier stands guard in front of a military vehicle carrying what is believed to be a Taepodong-class missile during a military parade in Pyongyang in April 2012. North Korea plans to launch a long-range rocket between December 10 and 22, the North's official news agency said Saturday.

Graphic showing the Sohae Satellite Launch Station in North Korea. North Korea plans to launch a long-range rocket between December 10 and 22, the North's official news agency says.

A South Korean activist wearing a mask of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un holds a mock missile during a rally in Seoul in April. North Korea has said it will carry out a new rocket launch this month, following a failure in April that was condemned by the international community as a disguised ballistic missile test.

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