SEOUL, South Korea — (DMN/Al-Jazeera) – North Korea has launched a ballistic rocket carrying a weather satellite, the South Korean defence ministry said. Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters the rocket had been launched at 7:39am local time on Friday (22:39 GMT on Thursday). The launch has drawn international criticism due to concerns it could further the state’s ability to deliver a nuclear warhead. The Unha-3 rocket took off from a new launch site on the west coast of North Korea, near the Chinese border, and if successful would enhance Pyongyang’s ability to build an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, critics say. But Japananese authorities have said that the North Korean “flying object” fell into the ocean.
The three-stage rocket’s flight path was expected to take it over the sea between the Korean peninsula and China, where the first stage is due to splash down. A second stage is due to land in waters off the Philippines. A US official confirmed North Korea had launched a long-range rocket despite warnings from major powers that the move would trigger further sanctions. “I can confirm they’ve carried out a launch,” the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the AFP news agency. Announcements about the launch had provoked threats to shoot down the rocket and cancel planned food aid from the US.
The launch had been planned to take place at any point between April 12 and 16, to commemorate the 100th birthday on April 15 of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung. Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, said, “It followed its southern trajectory. That’s what local media are reporting.” Our correspondent added: “Everybody is now waiting for confirmation of whether it all went to plan. The big question is whether it has been a more successful launch than [a previous launch] in 2009.” South Korea’s presidency was due to hold an emergency meeting immediately following the launch, as officials in Seoul and Washington attempted to verify its success. But there was no word from the North regarding the send-off. The UN Security Council has also said it will meet in an emergency session on Friday to discuss the situation in North Korea.