SEOUL, June 1 (Reuters) – Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said her country would soon put a military spy satellite into orbit and Pyongyang promised to boost its military surveillance capabilities, state media KCNA reported on Thursday.
The comments by Kim, a powerful ruling party official, came a day after a failed attempt to launch the country’s first spy satellite, which fell into the ocean.
Kim rejected accusations by Washington and other countries that it violated its sovereign right to space development.
“It is certain that (North Korea’s) military spy satellite will be properly placed in space orbit and begin its mission in the near future,” Kim said in an English-language report carried by KCNA.
Soon after the launch vehicle failed, South Korea spotted debris splashing down its west coast and began a recovery operation in hopes of studying a new rocket.
“The part we found appears to be the second stage of the rocket,” South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Jong-sub told parliament on Thursday. “We are continuing our search operations to find more, including the third stage and the payload.
A large and heavy object is submerged, and it will take time and special equipment to raise it, Lee added.
It is unclear when the North might attempt another launch. A South Korean member of parliament said on Wednesday that it could take weeks or more to resolve the problems that caused the rocket failure.
Acknowledging a rare and swift setback, KCNA reported that a Cholima-1 rocket carrying a military spy satellite called “Malligyong-1” fell into the sea after its second stage failed, hours after launch.
KCNA released images of a new rocket lifting off from a coastal launch site on Thursday. The white and gray rocket had a bulbous nose, apparently for carrying satellites or other cargo.
Ankit Panda of the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the photos confirmed the rocket was a new design.
“The launch used the new coastal launch pad they built at Dongchang-ri, so we could see a large space launch vehicle using the traditional gantry that has seen some work recently,” he added.
US-based observers, including 38 North and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said commercial satellite images after Wednesday’s launch showed significant activity on the main pad.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said they could infer from North Korean state media photos that the rocket was launched from a new pad.
Wednesday’s launch was widely criticized, including in South Korea, Japan and the United States.
Speaking in Tokyo, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “North Korea’s dangerous and destabilizing nuclear and missile programs threaten peace and stability in the region.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that Pyongyang’s use of missile technology to launch is in violation of Security Council resolutions.
In his statement, Kim Yo Jong said criticism of the launch was “self-contradictory” as the US and other countries had already launched “thousands of satellites”.
“The US is a gang, even if they launch a satellite into the DPRK… it’s illegal and threatening,” he said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said Kim’s claim was based on “distorted” ideas that violated the United Nations’ hope for regional peace.
In a separate statement carried by KCNA, North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Son Kyong criticized US-led military exercises in the region, including an international anti-proliferation naval exercise.
Reporting by Hyunsu Yim and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Su-Hyang Choi; Editing by Chris Rees, Grant McCool and Jerry Doyle
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