North Korea sat site turns active

Indications of ‘rapid rebuilding’ of facility after Hanoi summit collapsed.

North Korea sat site turns active

The Unha-3 rocket at Sohae Satellite Launch Station in Tongchang-Ri. (AFP)

Seoul: Activity was detected at a North Korean long-range rocket site, suggesting it may be pursuing “rapid rebuilding” of the facility after the collapse of Hanoi summit, according to analysis of satellite imagery.

Another research website suggested the rebuilding of the site may have started before last week’s meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump. The summit ended abruptly after the pair failed to reach an agreement on walking back Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. The renewed activity was recorded two days after talks and may “demonstrate resolve in the face of US rejection” of the North’s request for an easing of sanctions, said researchers at the Washi-ngton-based Centre for Strategic and Internat-ional Studies (CSIS).

“This facility had been dormant since August 2018, indicating the current activity is deliberate and purposeful,” it said.

Kim had agreed to shutter the Sohae missile-testing site at a summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in in Pyongy-ang, as part of confidence-building measures, and satellite pictures in August suggested workers were already dismantling an engine test stand at the facility. But CSIS said building activity is now “evident” at the Sohae Satellite Launching Stat-ion, from where Pyongy-ang launched satellites in 2012 and 2016. North Korea was later banned by the UN security council from carrying out the space launches, as some of its technology was similar to that used for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Washington-based 38 North project, an independent research site specialising in North Korea, reported building work at the Sohae facility, based on commercial satellite imagery. The pictures show a moving structure that had been used to carry launch vehicles to a launch pad on rails has been restored, it said.

“Two support cranes are observed at the building, the walls have been erected and a new roof added. At the engine test stand, it appears that the engine support structure is being reassembled,” the 38 North reported. In a briefing to parliamentarians this week, Seoul’s spy agency said it had detected signs of work at the site.

But Joel Wit, the director of the 38 North project cautioned that the proof was not necessarily “consistent with preparations for an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) test”.

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