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Tuesday, September 15, 1998 Published at 04:00 GMT 05:00 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

N Korea satellite 'failed to enter orbit'

The satellite never reached orbit

The United States now says a suspected North Korean missile launched two weeks ago over Japanese territory was in fact a small satellite which failed to go into orbit.

Katy Kay: US at first dismissed the idea of a satellite
Describing the satellite launch as dangerous and destabilising, State Department spokesman James Rubin said it demonstrated North Korea's capacity to threaten its neighbours.

Japan has since suspended most aid and co-operation with North Korea, which maintains that the satellite was successfully launched.

Initially thought to be a medium-range ballistic missile, the object flew nearly 2,000km over Japanese territory before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

A few days after the launch, North Korea announced the object was a satellite - an assertion that was supported by Russian evidence but met with doubt in the United States and Japan.

Russian observers have said the satellite is circling the earth every two hours and 45 minutes in a high, elliptical orbit.

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.

Weapons fears remain

[ image: North Korea retains powerful missile capabilities]
North Korea retains powerful missile capabilities
Nevertheless, the technologies needed to produce a ballistic missile and a satellite launch vehicle are in many respects indistinguishable, so the realisation that the rocket was indeed carrying a satellite has done nothing to calm fears of North Korea's weapons potential.

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.

Satellites and starvation

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

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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