North Korea has moved what it says is a satellite-carrying rocket by train to the launch pad in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sunday said Seoul and Washington are aware of the fact that North Korea moved what they believe is a long-range missile to the test site and is preparing for launch.
North Korea moved the three-stage missile by specially equipped train from the factory in Pyongyang to Tongchang-ri, where it has been assembled.
The news came as 58 world leaders gathered in Seoul for the Nuclear Security Summit on Monday and Tuesday. A government source here said, "There is no way North Korea is unaware that its missile transport train has been spotted by U.S. spy satellites. The move by North Korea just before the Nuclear Security Summit appears to be a show of force aimed at the international community."
The preparations also coincide with South Korea's general elections on April 11. An intelligence source in Seoul said, "Tensions on the Korean Peninsula will mount after North Korea reveals the missile at its launch pad early next month, when ruling and opposition party lawmakers intensify their election campaigns," turning the North Korean threat once again into a major political issue.
In March of 2010, North Korea sank the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan, and the opposition party won regional elections in South Korea three months later. This may have prompted North Korea to feel it can once again influence elections in South Korea in favor of appeasers, experts said.
The launch is part of celebrations of the centenary of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung. Others include a meeting of the Workers Party representatives and the Supreme People's Assembly that is to decide whether to appoint new leader Kim Jong-un general secretary of the party, thus officially completing his rise to power.
There are forecasts that the position of chairman of the National Defense Commission, held by late leader Kim Jong-il, will be abolished. A similar move after Kim Il-sung's death ensured that the highest position the regime's founder held -- that of president -- was never occupied again. Chung Sung-jang at the Sejong Institute said Kim Jong-il instead became chairman of the National Defense Commission, and Kim Jong-un is highly likely to follow that example and rule by dint of some other position.