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Saturday, September 5, 1998 Published at 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Russia verifies satellite launch

Songs from space for the late Kim Il-Sung (left) and son Kim Il-Jong

Russia says North Korea has succeeded in launching its first satellite into orbit.

Russian officials published details of the satellite's position and said they had given it an identity number.

Juliet Hindell: "Launch may have been a ploy"
What was at first thought to be a new long-range missile is now said to be circling the earth every two hours and 45 minutes in a high, elliptical orbit.

[ image: Picture released of the rocket launch]
Picture released of the rocket launch
American officials had at first insisted that the launch was a test-firing of a modified missile by North Korea; but they now concede it may have been a satellite launch.

An American intelligence official was quoted as saying that Washington was still analysing data, but the possibility that it was a genuine satellite launch could not be ruled out.

US analyst Colonel Bill Taylor: "Gross failure of US intelligence".
South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung said he was not sure whether what had been launched was a missile or a satellite, but he deplored that the North was spending money on "such a thing" when its people were starving.

The assumption that the launch was a weapons test had provoked criticism of North Korea by Japan and the United States.

BBC Defence analyst Nick Childs says the realisation that it was a satellite launch will only reinforce concerns about North Korea's missile ambitions and the pace of missile proliferation around the world.

North Korea's technological advance

The technologies needed to produce a ballistic missile and a satellite launch vehicle are in many respects indistinguishable.

If North Korea has successfully put a satellite into orbit, our correspondent adds, this suggests its rocket development programme and hence its weapons capabilities may be even more advanced than previously thought.

The government in Pyongyang accused Japan of behaving rashly by blindly accepting what it described as rumours about missile tests.

Initially, Japanese and South Korean ministers had scorned the satellite launch claim.

Singing in space

[ image: Close surveillance by US failed to spot satellite launch]
Close surveillance by US failed to spot satellite launch
The official Korean Central News Agency announcement said the satellite would help Pyongyang in its research for launching "practical satellites in the future".

It is transmitting, according to the announcement, "the melody of the immortal revolutionary hymns 'Song of General Kim Il-Sung' and 'Song of Kim Jong-Il' and the Morse signals 'juche Korea' in 27MHz."

Juche, or self-reliance, is North Korea's guiding philosophy.

Correspondents have linked the timing of the rocket launch to the 50th anniversary of the Communist state next week.

Looking for income

The BBC correspondent in Seoul, Andrew Wood, says it is difficult to see what use a satellite might be to North Korea.

In the famine of the past few years hundreds of thousands are reported to have died and the country is dependent on foreign aid.

But our correspondent says that exports of missile technology mainly to the Middle East are believed to have raised hundreds of millions of much-needed dollars for North Korea.

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