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North Korea rocket launch could occur ahead of anniversary, analysts say

North Korea may conduct a nuclear test after the launch, depending on international response to its rocket.

By
Elizabeth Shim
North Korea launching the Unha-3 in 2012. Pyongyang said its space development program is for peaceful purposes. File photo by Yonhap
North Korea launching the Unha-3 in 2012. Pyongyang said its space development program is for peaceful purposes. File photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- North Korea is preparing a monumental commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers' Party, and a nuclear test could follow, depending on international response to an upcoming rocket launch.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at South Korea's University of North Korean Studies, said Pyongyang is likely to launch satellites by rocket from Oct. 5-9, Yonhap reported.

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The timing is to coincide with the final days before the anniversary on Oct. 10, when North Korea also is mobilizing tens of thousands of Socialist Youth League members to take part in a torchlight procession from Mount Paektu in the north to Pyongyang, then on to Panmunjom, which faces South Korea.

Pyongyang said its space development program is for peaceful purposes, and that it plans to exercise its "legitimate right" as a sovereign state, but some analysts have said the program is a cover for missile tests. Any rocket launch would be a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the international community has warned Pyongyang against acts of provocation.

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North Korea has yet to respond to the warnings, and instead has been occupied with preparations for the Oct. 10 anniversary. Construction on a street dedicated to future scientists must be completed per Kim Jong Un's orders, and on anniversary day a large-scale military parade is expected to be held in Pyongyang.

Jung Jae-heung, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies of Kyungnam University in South Korea, said if the North decides not to send a rocket into space, it would mean Pyongyang is looking for extra concessions from the outside world, but added it is more likely a rocket would be launched as part of its "brinksmanship tactics." If additional sanctions follow, as was the case in 2013, it raises the possibility North Korea would conduct its fourth nuclear test.

Analyst opinions on North Korea's nuclear arsenal vary widely, but according to Russian military expert Vladimir Yevseyev, Pyongyang may be able to increase its arsenal to 50 nuclear weapons by 2020, South Korean television network KBS reported.

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