TOKYO - North Korea appears to have installed on a launch pad the first stage of a three-stage rocket it plans to launch this month in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, according to multiple informed sources.
The sources cited evidence of the first-stage trailer having moved from assembly building to the launch pad at the Sohae Space Center at Tongchang-ri in northwestern North Korea, but they said satellite confirmation has hindered by snowy conditions in recent days.
They said the United States and Japan are strengthening their surveillance of the site to ascertain how close North Korea is to carrying out the launch, which the two countries and their allies see as a disguised test of a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency on Monday quoted a government source as saying the apparent installment of the first stage of the rocket on the launch pad, which is located in North Phyongan Province near the border with China, "means North Korea is starting its process of launching a long-range missile."
North Korea announced Saturday it will launch its Kwangmyongsong-3 polar-orbiting earth observation satellite by carrier rocket Unha-3 in the period between Dec. 10 and 22.
Yonhap said North Korea has informed Japan that the launch would be carried out between 7 a.m. and noon.
The United States and its allies have warned that any such launch would be in direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology.
North Korea's attempt to launch a long-range rocket last April, which was unsuccessful, drew strong international condemnation.