North Korea advances ‘satellite’ launch

 North Korea"s Unha 3 rocket lifts off from the Sohae launch pad in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. The Unha 3 rocket that launched the “Bright Star” satellite into space in 2012

North Korea has brought forward the possible date of a controversial “satellite” launch to as early as Sunday, regional governments say.

The secretive state will launch the satellite-bearing rocket between 7-14 February, the Japanese government has said, according to reports.

Pyongyang previously said the launch would take place between 8-25 February.

The planned launch has been condemned by world powers, which say it is a cover for testing a ballistic missile.

North Korea did not inform international organisations of any other changes in its plan and the rocket’s expected flight path remains the same, said South Korea’s defence ministry.

The South has warned the North that it will “pay a harsh price” if it goes ahead with its plan to launch the satellite.

Japan’s defence minister said he had issued an order to shoot down any missile that threatened to fall on Japanese territory.

South Korean analysts have speculated that the North might do the launch ahead of 16 February, the birthday of the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.

North Korea has already provoked international criticism this year with a fourth nuclear bomb test on 6 January.

A launch in the coming weeks would constitute another major violation of UN Security Council resolutions banning the state from carrying out any nuclear or ballistic missile tests.

The North insists its space programme is purely scientific in nature, but the US, South Korea and even ally China say the rocket launches are aimed at developing an inter-continental ballistic missile capable of striking the US.