SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has conducted an engine ignition test for a long-range missile at a new launch base under construction near its west coast, a South Korean intelligence source was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
The report came after security concerns were raised last week by speculation the North’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-il may have suffered a stroke and that the country was nearing completion of a new launch site capable of firing missiles that could hit all of South Korea and most of Japan.
“North Korea’s rocket engine combustion test this year for a long-range missile at the Tongchang-ri site has been captured by the U.S. KH-12 reconnaissance satellite,” the intelligence source was quoted as saying by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
“The Tongchang-ri test site has been under construction for several years and the engine test site is already in operation.”
South Korea’s defense ministry and the intelligence agency could not immediately confirm the report.
North Korea is nearing completion of the new missile site about 30 miles from its border with China, South Korea’s defense minister was quoted as saying last week.
The site could be used to test its Taepodong-2 long-range missile and is larger and more sophisticated than a previous site the North has used to launch missiles, U.S. broadcaster CNN quoted analysts as saying last week.
North Korea last launched its Taepodong-2, a multi-stage missile under development with a possible range of 3,500 - 4,300 kms (about 2,200 - 2,700 miles), in July 2006 from its east coast. The missile fizzled and destructed a few seconds after its launch.
North Korea has more than 800 ballistic missiles, experts said.
The North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday that it would step up its war deterrent in the face of what it saw as U.S. threats.
Reporting by Jack Kim and Kim Jung-hyun; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and David Fox