North Korea preparing for ballistic missile launch: media

North Korea appears to be preparing to test-launch its longest range ballistic missile, media reports said on Tuesday, stoking tensions just days after the reclusive state warned that the Korean peninsula was on the brink of war, reported Reuters.

North Korea, which typically carries out missile tests in times of political friction, last week said it was scrapping all agreements with South Korea in a move analysts said was aimed at pressuring Seoul and grabbing the attention of new U.S. President Barack Obama.

The North, which tested a nuclear device in 2006, is seen as one of the greatest threats to regional security. But experts say they do not believe Pyongyang has developed the technology to miniaturize an atomic weapon so it can be mounted on a missile as a warhead.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency and Japan's Sankei Shimbun cited unnamed government sources as saying the North had been moving equipment used in the launch of its Taepodong-2 missile, which the test-fired in July 2006 only to see it fizzle and destruct a few seconds after leaving the launch pad.

A train carrying a large object had left a factory and was headed to the site of a newly constructed launch pad on the North's west coast, Yonhap quoted an unnamed South Korean government source as saying.

"The object is suspected as being a Taepodong-2," he said.

It will take North Korea at least a month or two to actually launch a Taepodong-2, the Sankei cited an unnamed Japanese government source as saying.

A security researcher at a South Korean state-run think tank said Pyongyang had two aims in carrying out a missile test.

"First, it helps the North to continuously develop and upgrade its long-range missiles. Second, they are seeking to send a political message," said the researcher, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive subject matter.

Financial market analysts in South Korea, used to North Korean saber rattling, paid little attention to the reports.

"Markets tend not to respond to North Korea issues as sensitively as political circles would," said Hwang Keum-dan, an analyst at Samsung Securities.

"If they actually launch the missile, it may put pressure on sentiment, but only in the short-term."

A South Korean Defense Ministry official said he could not comment on intelligence matters but added the South keeps a constant eye on the North's military activities. Japanese government officials declined to comment.

The Taepodong-2 is designed to eventually have a range long enough to hit U.S. territory. Much of the preparation needed to get it ready can be seen by spy satellites.

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