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Friday, September 25, 2015, 11:20

DPRK launch 'unlikely at upcoming anniversary'

By Associated Press

DPRK launch 'unlikely at upcoming anniversary'
In this Dec 12, 2012 file photo, a screen at the General Satellite Control and Command Center shows the moment DPRK's Unha-3 rocket is launched in Pyongyang, DPRK. (AP Photo / File)

WASHINGTON — A Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) long-range rocket launch appears unlikely at the upcoming 70th anniversary of the ruling party, a US research institute said Thursday.

Pyongyang is expected to stage its biggest celebration in years on Oct 10, and there's speculation it could launch a rocket to advance its fledgling space program. The US views that as a way for the DPRK to develop a long-range ballistic missile.

The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies is basing its analysis on recent commercial satellite photos, the latest taken Monday, of the DPRK's main rocket launch site at Sohae. Research being published on the institute's website, 38 North, says a launch by Oct 10 is still possible but there's no sign of preparations that would have been expected by now for that to happen.

The institute does detect new activity at DPRK's nuclear test site at Punggye-ri but says its purpose is unclear.

Satellite imagery from Sept 17 shows four large vehicles parked near a tunnel entrance, which is concealed by camouflage netting, often used to hide activity from overhead scrutiny.

Predicting nuclear tests, which are conducted underground, is notoriously difficult. The institute says movement of vehicles and other activity at the site could indicate anything from maintenance work to preparations for DPRK's fourth test explosion since 2006.

DPRK fired its first rocket into space from Sohae on its west coast in December 2012, sending into orbit a satellite that soon malfunctioned. It then conducted a nuclear test at Punggye-ri in February 2013. Both actions drew UN Security Council condemnation and sanctions.

Pyongyang has said it has the right to launch rockets any time it sees fit but has not said when it would do so. Last week, it announced it has upgraded and restarted all of its atomic fuel plants — meaning it could possibly make more, and more sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Jeong Joon-Hee, a spokesman for Republic of Korea's (ROK) Unification Ministry, told reporters Friday that there were no signs that a DPRK rocket launch is imminent.

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