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Spy satellites spot nose of NKorea rocket: report

world Updated: Mar 29, 2009 11:12 IST

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Spy satellites have photographed the nose cone of a long-range North Korean rocket on its launch pad but its remains unclear whether it is carrying a satellite or a warhead, a report said on Sunday.Global concern has been mounting over North Korea's announcement that it would launch a communications satellite between April 4 and 8.

The United States, Japan and South Korea believe Pyongyang is actually testing a Taepodong-2 missile that could, in theory, reach Alaska."Spy satellites spotted the upper part of the rocket had its coverings removed on the launch pad," an unnamed South Korean government source told Yonhap news agency."But it is impossible to tell what object has been loaded onto the round-shaped (rocket) top, a satellite or a warhead."

South Korea's defence ministry declined to comment on the report.Seoul believes Pyongyang will choose its launch date based on weather considerations, Yonhap said.The North's launch site is expected to have either snow or rain in the afternoon on April 4, cloudy skies on April 5 and clear skies from April 6 to 10, Yonhap said quoting the unnamed government source.A top US general last week said the United States could shoot down the projectile if it was determined to be a ballistic missile, and Japan also said it would try to shoot down any rocket heading for its territory.

South Korea, Japan and the United States have warned that North Korea's rocket launch would be in violation of a UN Security Council resolution banning the communist state from carrying out ballistic missile activities.The envoys from the three allies met in Washington during the weekend to discuss counter measures to be taken against North Korea.

Pyongyang has resisted pressure to call off the launch and warned that any attempt to shoot down the rocket would be regarded as an act of war.Washington and Tokyo have worked jointly on a missile defence shield, using land and sea-based missiles, against a possible attack from North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan in 1998 and tested a nuclear bomb in 2006.

US National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said last week North Korea wanted to show its capability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.