A new satellite picture reveals that North Korea's missile firing complex is teeming with apparent preparations for another long-range missile trial launch, Reuters reported on Monday.
DigitalGlobe said its Nov. 23 picture indicates the presence of an increased number of people, transport vehicles and machinery at the Dongchang-ri launch site. The degree of movement at the complex is similar to levels seen shortly prior to the North's unsuccessful April firing of a long-range space rocket -- an event that was widely seen as a strategic ballistic missile test.
"Given the observed level of activity noted of a new tent, trucks, people and numerous portable fuel/oxidizer tanks, should North Korea desire, it could possibly conduct its fifth satellite launch event during the next three weeks," DigitalGlobe said in issued remarks.
Pyongyang claims a sovereign right to carry out satellite launches while the U.N. Security Council says they violate restrictions on the North's use of technology with ballistic missile applications. North Korea has yet to succeed in its purported desire to place a satellite into orbit or in its assumed real aim of demonstrating an ICBM capability.
A U.S. Defense Department spokeswoman would not discuss the DigitalGlobe picture. The spokeswoman called on Pyongyang to abide by Security Council rulings that "require Pyongyang to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner, and re-establish its moratorium on missile launching."
The North could carry out a missile launch within the next 60 days, armed forces insiders in the South Korean capital told the Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday.
"After the long-range missile parts were transported to Dongchang-ri missile launch site early this month, apparent signs of preparations for a missile launch were spotted," an unidentified high-ranking military official said. "(The South Korean military) is judging that there is high possibility of (the North's) firing off the missile between December and January of next year," he said.
Seoul is strategizing with partner governments on how to handle a possible missile launch by Pyongyang, the Korea Times reported on Monday.
"Going through with a launch would only worsen the North's isolation," warned an anonymous South Korean official.
A missile test would fit with Pyongyang's track record of using provocations to gain attention from the United States, said Park Young-ho, an expert with the Korea Institute for National Unification. "It's a typical tactic of the North," according to the analyst. "It wants to heighten its leverage vis-a-vis Washington, trying to resume dialogue."
The Obama administration has largely broken off formal contact with the North as punishment for its violation of a bilateral agreement reached in February to abstain from long-range missile tests and other nuclear weapon-related activities.
Experts also believe North Korea might be trying to convince its patron China to deliver more economic aid and separately to pressure the next South Korean government -- due to take power in early 2013 -- into adopting a more conciliatory inter-Korean posture than the outgoing hawkish Lee Myung-bak administration.