This developed as The Associated Press (AP) reported that North Korea may have moved the first stage of a rocket to a launch stand, indicating it is on schedule for a controversial mid-April launch, according to a new analysis of satellite images.
The rocket isn’t visible at the Tongchang-ri site, but an analysis provided to the AP by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies says evidence suggests the first stage may be in the launch stand’s closed gantry, a support frame, ahead of the launch planned for April 12 to 16.
The North has vowed to launch a rocket to put an earth observation satellite into orbit, a move widely seen as a pretext to disguise a banned test of its ballistic-missile technology.
The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea in Pyongyang warned that interception of the satellite would be “an act of war” and would cause a tremendous catastrophe.
Whoever “intercepts the satellite or collects its debris will meet immediate, resolute and merciless punishment” from the North, the committee said in an English-language statement carried by its Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) late Thursday.
The warning came days after South Korea said it was exploring measures to intercept the rocket booster in case it veers off its trajectory. Japan has also ordered its troops to shoot down the rocket if there is concern it or parts of it could land on Japan.