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North Korea prepares controversial rocket launch

From Stan Grant, CNN
April 9, 2012 -- Updated 0623 GMT (1423 HKT)
Technicians check the North Korean satellite launch vehicle Unha-3 on the launch pad at the Sohae Satellite Launching Center on April 8.
Technicians check the North Korean satellite launch vehicle Unha-3 on the launch pad at the Sohae Satellite Launching Center on April 8.
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Rare images from North Korea
Rare images from North Korea
Rare images from North Korea
Rare images from North Korea
Rare images from North Korea
Rare images from North Korea
Rare images from North Korea
Rare images from North Korea
Rare images from North Korea
Rare images from North Korea
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Korea says it plans to launch a rocket carrying a satellite this month
  • Other countries say the move is a cover for a ballistic missile test
  • Journalists are granted rare access at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station

Tongchang-ri, North Korea (CNN) -- As North Korea presses forward with a controversial rocket launch, journalists were granted a rare glimpse Sunday of the reclusive country's preparations.

CNN was part of a group taken to the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri, in the northwest part of the country.

North Korea announced last month that it would launch a rocket carrying a satellite between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Communist state. His birthday on April 15, known as the "Day of the Sun," is a key public holiday in the North Korean calendar.

Pyongyang says the operation is for peaceful purposes, but Japan, the United States and South Korea see the launch as a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test.

Firing the long-range rocket would breach U.N. Security Council resolutions, and Washington has suspended a recent deal to provide food aid to North Korea as a result. Japan has said it will shoot down any part of the rocket that enters its territory.

Guided launch pad tour in North Korea

"If you look for yourselves with your own eyes, then you can judge whether it's a ballistic missile, or whether it's a launch vehicle to put a satellite into orbit," Jang Myong Jin, head of the launch site, said through a translator. "That's why we've invited you to this launch site."

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Journalists -- who were not allowed to take laptops or cell phones to the site, but were permitted to film -- were shown the control center and the satellite that officials said would be shot into space.

Obama: 'No rewards for provocations'

The rocket itself is 30 meters, or about 100 feet, long. It was white, with some red and blue paint.

N. Korea's rocket test: Why it matters

International leaders have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, but Pyongyang has refused to back down, insisting that the operation is for scientific purposes.

The last time Pyongyang carried out what it described as a satellite launch, in April 2009, the U.N. Security Council condemned the action and demanded that it not be repeated.

An independent European analyst who visited the launch site said he saw nothing obvious that raised red flags.

"I don't know what they want to do in the future, but today what we see is a space launcher," said Christian Lardier.

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