SEOUL, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- North Korea notified a United Nations agency of its plan to launch a satellite in February, but the plan could be a cover for a test of Pyongyang's ballistic missile technology.
The International Maritime Organization said North Korea communicated its plans for a satellite launch between Feb. 8 and 25, the BBC reported.
The announcement comes after experts and government officials in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington confirmed activities at Sohae Satellite Launching Station in North Korea's North Pyongan Province.
The IMO said North Korea plans to launch a satellite, the Kwangmyong-song, and the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva said the North had stated in its missive that it intends to launch an "Earth observation satellite," Yonhap reported.
The purpose of the satellite sendoff is to collect visual information, Pyongyang said, adding it has been preparing for the launch for four years.
Critics say the North's announcement is a front for the country's ballistic missile program.
Japanese government officials told Kyodo News North Korea plans to launch between 7 a.m. and noon on an unspecified day in February.
North Korea's plans are defying international expectations, including those of its close economic partner China.
Beijing has condemned the North's provocations and is taking new economic measures against Pyongyang.
Yonhap reported border inspections at the Chinese city of Dandong have increased since the North conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.
A North Korea source told Yonhap customs inspections at the Yalu River Bridge that connects China's Dandong to the North Korean city of Sinuiju were creating a "not very good atmosphere" on a span that is often busy with inter-border freight trains and trucks.
The number of North Korea border traders have also decreased, the source said.
North Korea relies heavily on China for fuel and other supplies, but recent statistics from South Korea's Korea Development Institute show trade was down by 15 percent in 2015 from 2014, Voice of America reported.
Trade volume between January and November totaled $4.9 billion.