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'NKorea gearing up to fire missile'

world Updated: Feb 03, 2009 09:46 IST

North Korea appears to be gearing up to test-fire a missile, a South Korean official said on Tuesday, and reports said it could be a long-range weapon capable of reaching the western United States.

The move comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, with the North declaring last week that it was abandoning all pacts designed to prevent hostilities with the South. The two Koreas technically remain at war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty.

"There are signs North Korea is preparing for a missile launch," the South Korean intelligence official told The Associated Press. He declined to give any further details and spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue. However, the Yonhap news agency said intelligence authorities have spotted a train carrying a long, cylinder-shaped object _ believed to be a long-range missile _ heading to Dongchang-ni, a new missile launch site on North Korea's west coast.

The intelligence indicates the missile is likely a long-range Taepodong-2 model, and the North could finish its preparations for a missile launch within one or two months, Yonhap said, citing unidentified officials.

The Japanese newspaper Sankei also reported on preparations for a possible Taepodong-2 launch, citing several unnamed Japanese government officials.

In Tokyo, officials at the Japanese defense and foreign ministries could not be reached for comment.

South Korea's Defense Ministry declined to confirm Yonhap report. The Taepodong-2 _ considered the North's most advanced rocket _ has a range of more than 4,160 miles (6,700 kilometers), putting the western US into striking range, according to the South Korean government.

North Korea tested the engine of a long-range missile last year, according to US and South Korean officials.

North Korea's clandestine missile program has been a key regional concern, along with its nuclear weapons program.

In 2006, the North launched a Taepodong-2 missile from its east coast site in Musudan-ni. The test was considered a failure because the rocket plunged into the ocean shortly after liftoff.