|A satellite image of North Korea's Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Tongchang-ri). Washington-based Stimson Center's 38 North says, 'Rebuilding continues at the engine test site' as seen in this image provided by Airbus Defence & Space and 38 North in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 7. Reuters-Yonhap|
By Jung Da-min
The Ministry of National Defense said, Thursday, the process of rebuilding a portion of a facility earlier used to test long-range missile engines in North Korea appeared to be "almost complete."
But the ministry has expressed uncertainty over whether or not increased activity at the Tongchang-ri launch facility represents North Korea's intention to activate the site for another possible test.
Regarding the recent information on alleged activity at the Tongchang-ri site, one of the few publicly known missile component development facilities in North Korea, a ministry source said it is "too early to say if the Tongchang-ri site is already operational."
Foreign media outlets hinted at resumed operation of the missile site stating that satellite images appearing from March 6 show construction that began before the Hanoi summit. It is claimed the rebuilding has continued at a rapid pace and the rail-mounted transfer structure might be ready for normal operation.
The ministry refuted media reports the North might launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or space rocket, adding the partial restoration of the site seemed to have started last month before the Feb. 27-28 Hanoi summit.
The latest satellite images showed no new activity had been detected at the site between March 8 and 13, according to the Washington-based Stimson Center's 38 North, a website dedicated to North Korea issues.
In the meantime, the U.N. Panel of Experts said Tuesday (local time) in its annual report that North Korea's nuclear and missile programs "remain intact."
The report neither mentioned nor specified the Tongchacng-ri site but said the Yongbyon nuclear complex remained active. The 5-megawatt Yongbyon reactor is said to have been operational since December 2015.
The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently called for the North's "action" on denuclearization in multiple media interviews, though he didn't specify what "action" means with regard to the Tongchang-ri site. Pompeo discussed the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula among other agendas during his meeting with the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.