North Korea has begun injecting fuel into a long-range rocket, which it plans to launch as soon as Thursday, despite growing protest from the international community.
The head of the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology told journalists that fuel was being injected into the rocket "as we speak" despite concerns it could breach UN resolutions.
Paek Chang-ho snubbed critics, saying: "We don't really care about the opinions from the outside. This is critical in order to develop our national economy."
He would not comment on the date of the launch, which is expected to be between the 12-16 April, saying the "exact timing" will "be decided by my superiors".
The rocket launch will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founding leader of the reclusive state.
According to America, Japan and North Korea’s neighbours in the south, the launch of the Unha-3 rocket is a ballistic missile test masquerading as a satellite launch, a move that would breach UN resolutions on missile testing.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned it could lead to "additional provocations" on Tuesday, saying: "The speed of the turnaround raises questions about Pyongyang's seriousness in saying that it desires to improve relations with us and its neighbours."
David Cameron warned North Korea on Tuesday that it would be "unacceptable" for it to defy calls to abandon rocket tests.
Jang Myong-Jin, head of the country’s space centre, told the Associated Foreign Press that the launch was planned "long ago, on the occasion of the 100th birthday of president Kim Il-sung".
“We are not doing it for provocative purposes."
"Our country has the right and also the obligation to develop satellites and launching vehicles. No matter what others say, we are doing this for peaceful purposes."
The control center inside the Sohae Satellite Station
The rocket, which will be launched just 30 miles from the Chinese border, sits 30 metres high and will carry a Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite to collect weather data.
However, missile experts have argued that the rocket could be used to launch a long-range missile with a range that could place Korea within striking distance of the US pacific coast. According to US intelligence estimates, North Korea has yet to develop atomic warheads suitable for delivery by the Unha-3 rocket.
The satellite station was open to foreign journalists for the first time
Should North Korea progress with the launch, the recently agreed deal between Pyongyang and Washington in which the US promised to provide aid in exchange for a hiatus in missile testing would be thrown into fresh doubt.
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