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N Korea developing new satellite, defends space programme


TOKYO (AP): North Korean space agency officials say the country is developing a more advanced Earth observation satellite and are defending their right to conduct rocket launches whenever they see fit, despite protests by the United States and others that the launches are aimed primarily at honing military-use technologies.

The North launched its first and only satellite in 2012.

The claim that it is working on another, made in an interview last week with an AP Television crew in Pyongyang, comes amid a flurry of attention to the country's fledgling space agency, including a visit by leader Kim Jong Un to a new satellite control center that was repeatedly broadcast on North Korean TV early last month.

"We are developing a more advanced Earth observation satellite and when it's complete, before launching it, we will inform international organizations and other countries," Paek Chang Ho, vice director of the scientific research and development department of the North's space agency, said in the interview.

Paek did not provide further details of what the satellite will do, how close it is to completion, when development began or when the next launch might be.

Speculation the North may be planning a rocket launch to mark the 70th anniversary this October of the ruling Korean Workers Party heated up after the release of recent satellite imagery at North Korea's Sohae rocket launch site. Analysts at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies say the images show significant new construction.

Concern has also been rising over North Korea's weapons development.

The North recently claimed it tested a new type of missile from a submarine and reiterated that it had built a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile.

Outside analysts are skeptical about both claims, but they believe the North has built a small but growing nuclear bomb arsenal and advanced its missile programme since international nuclear disarmament talks stalled in early 2009.

Paek, echoing the North's often-repeated public statements about its intentions, dismissed any linkage between the space programme and weapons development.

"Our National Aerospace Development Administration has peaceful objectives," he said. "America and its impure allies are always trying to persecute us ... We will continue launching satellites in the designated place when necessary and whether it is recognized or not. The high dignity of our republic will be exalted."

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