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North Korea party to meet before rocket launch

02 april 2012, 18:32
DigitalGlobe satellite image shows North Korea’s recent announcement of its intentions to conduct a satellite launch. ©AFP
DigitalGlobe satellite image shows North Korea’s recent announcement of its intentions to conduct a satellite launch. ©AFP
North Korea said Monday its ruling party would hold a special conference on April 11, bolstering the power of its young leader just before a major anniversary and the planned launch of a long-range rocket, AFP reports.

The meeting is expected to wrap up the power transfer to Kim Jong-Un before the 100th anniversary on April 15 of the birth of founding president Kim Il-Sung -- the present leader's grandfather.

The rocket launch, purportedly to put a satellite into orbit, is set for sometime between April 12 and 16 to commemorate the anniversary.

The United States, South Korea and many other nations see it as a pretext for a long-range missile test banned by the United Nations.

Party committee meetings in the military, provinces, cities and counties elected Jong-Un as one of the conference delegates, "reflecting the unanimous will and desire of all the party members, service personnel and people", the official news agency said.

Analysts say the Workers' Party of Korea meeting is likely to appoint Jong-Un to the post of party general secretary previously held by his father Kim Jong-Il, who died in December of a heart attack.

Jong-Un has been proclaimed "great successor" but has so far been formally appointed to only one of his late father's posts, that of supreme commander of the 1.2-million-strong military, the world's fourth largest.

Separately, the North will convene an annual session of its rubber-stamp parliament on April 13.

The parliament has the power to appoint a chairman of the National Defence Commission, the top decision-making body in the highly militarised state.

Kim Jong-Il previously chaired the commission. It was unclear whether his son would take over the post.

The North's disclosure of its satellite plan came just over two weeks after the announcement of a deal with the United States.

The North agreed to suspend operations at its Yongbyon uranium enrichment plant, and impose a moratorium on long-range missile tests and nuclear tests, in return for 240,000 tonnes of food aid.

Washington said last week it was suspending plans to start food deliveries as it could no longer trust the North to stick to arrangements on monitoring distribution.

Pyongyang, which insists that a satellite launch is not a missile test, criticised the US move Saturday as an "over-reaction" that would kill off the February 29 agreement.

A foreign ministry spokesman said Washington had previously insisted that it made no link between humanitarian and political issues.

"This would be a regrettable act of scrapping the DPRK (North Korea)-US agreement in its entirety as it is a violation of the core articles of the February 29 DPRK-US agreement," the spokesman said.

Several foreign leaders at a nuclear summit in Seoul last week reportedly criticised the launch as a waste of money when the North is struggling to feed its people.

An unidentified South Korean military official quoted by Yonhap news agency estimated the launch cost at $850 million -- $400 million for construction of the launch site, $300 million for the rocket and $150 million for the payload.

This could buy 2.5 million tonnes of Chinese corn and feed the North's entire population for a year, the official said, adding Pyongyang is expected separately to spend $2 billion on celebrating the birth anniversary.

The effects of a devastating famine in the 1990s still resonate. The North Korean military is being forced to accept shorter conscripts because the current generation of boys is stunted by malnutrition, another report said.

The report Monday by Daily NK, a Seoul-based online newspaper run by North Korean defectors, said the military had cut the minimum height for male conscripts aged 16-17 to 142 centimetres (4 feet, 9 inches) from 145 cm.

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