SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea has built an underground fueling facility near a key launch pad, a news report said Thursday, making it harder for spy satellites to detect signs that a missile is being prepared for firing.
The facility was built at the Musudan-ni missile site on the North's northeastern coast either late last year or early this year, Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unidentified senior South Korean official.
The National Intelligence Service, Seoul's top spy agency, and the Defense Ministry declined to confirm the report, citing the sensitivity of intelligence matters.
The move came days after North Korea announced it was preparing to send a satellite into orbit as part of a space program. Neighboring powers and the U.S. believe that accounts of a satellite launch are a cover-up for preparations to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution.
"Now, our scientists and engineers are actively pushing for a project to make a peaceful use of space," the North's Korean Central Broadcasting Station said in a report late Wednesday.
Senior NIS officials briefed South Korean lawmakers Wednesday on the government's suspicions that the projectile being prepared for launch in North Korea is a long-range missile, rather than a satellite.
The NIS officials told a parliamentary committee meeting that the object's shape "is similar to" the North's long-range Taepodong missile, said ruling party lawmaker Lee Cheol-woo, who attended the closed-door session.
In 1998, North Korea test-fired a Taepodong-1 ballistic missile over Japan and then claimed to have put a satellite into orbit. The country test-launched a Taepodong-2 missile believed capable of reaching Alaska in 2006, but it plunged into the ocean shortly after liftoff.
After a series of missile firings, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in 2006 prohibiting Pyongyang from ballistic activity.
Media reports suggest the latest missile being readied for launch could be an advanced version of the Taepodong-2 with even greater range: the U.S. west coast.
Earlier Wednesday, the North's state media reported leader Kim Jong Il visited the province where Pyongyang says it was preparing to launch the satellite.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim met workers in Hoeryong, in North Hamgyong Province. Hoeryong is about 110 miles from Hwadae, the county where North Korea said it was preparing for a satellite launch.
Hwadae also is the site for the 2006 test launch of the North's the Taepodong-2 missile.