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Military denies missing rocket launch signs

The Defense Ministry denied accusations on Wednesday that the military and intelligence authorities were in the dark about North Korea’s preparation of a rocket launch.

The Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin said that the ministry informed Cheong Wa Dae of related developments.

Until the rocket was detected by the South Korean destroyer Sejong the Great at 9:51 a.m., both South Korean and U.S. authorities are said to have had held the position that the launch was not imminent based on intelligence gathered up until Monday.

On Monday, when North Korea extended the launch window until Dec. 29, South Korean and U.S. satellites took images of the launch site showing technicians disassembling parts of the rocket.

The South Korean government officials then said that parts of the rocket had been taken off the launch tower and moved to a nearby facility, and that defects have been found in the direction control system of the first-stage rocket.
Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin (fourth from right), commander of U.S. Forces Korea James Thurman (third from right), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Jung Seung-jo (second from right) and U.S. Ambassador to Korea Sung Kim (right) head to a meeting at the Defense Ministry in Seoul on Wednesday. (Joint Press Corps)
Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin (fourth from right), commander of U.S. Forces Korea James Thurman (third from right), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Jung Seung-jo (second from right) and U.S. Ambassador to Korea Sung Kim (right) head to a meeting at the Defense Ministry in Seoul on Wednesday. (Joint Press Corps)

With signs indicating likely delays in the launch, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense and the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or JCS are said to have reduced the size of the taskforce put together oversee related matters, and replaced the officer in charge of the operations with one of a lower rank.

In addition, a number of government sources have told the media that the authorities had been in the dark about developments that led to the launch at the site in Dongchang-ri in northwestern North Korea.

The Defense Ministry has since claimed that concerned officials were monitoring the situation, and that the military was aware of launch preparations being made on Tuesday.

“The fact that the missile was affixed to the launch tower was verified yesterday afternoon, and that was reported to Cheong Wa Dae,” the Defense Minister told the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee on Wednesday. He also said that reports citing defense officials about the rocket having been disassembled were false, and that the ministry had neither announced nor confirmed such information.

“The president was aware of the facts. (The ministry) had assessed that it was possible to launch (the rocket) at any time.”

Despite the military’s claims, both it and the government are coming under heavy criticism for the apparent slipup.

“The inability to properly identify important matters such as North Korea’s rocket launch clearly shows a lack of information and the limitations of (the government’s) information analysis capabilities,” the main opposition Democratic United Party said in a statement.

“The government’s intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities need to be comprehensively reviewed, and those in charge must take responsibility.”

Such criticism was echoed by various non-governmental organizations who said that the government’s inability to keep abreast of such developments was incomprehensible.

The ruling Saenuri Party, in contrast, turned the issue against the DUP saying that aide provided to North Korea under the Roh Moo-hyun administration funded Pyongyang’s rocket development.

By Choi He-suk  (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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