Pyongyang has announced it will launch a satellite-bearing rocket sometime between February 8-25, which is around the time of the birthday on February 16 of late leader Kim Jong-Il, father of current supremo Kim Jong-Un.

The North insists its space programme is purely scientific in nature, but the US and allies, including South Korea, say its rocket launches are aimed at developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US mainland.

North Korea "will finish preparations for the launch as soon as the next several days", the unidentified US Defence Department official said.

Since yesterday, satellite images have shown increased movement of people and equipment around the launch pad and a fuel storehouse at North Korea's Sohae satellite launch complex in the country's northwest, the official said, according to the Washington-datelined report.

The United States judged that fuelling appears to have started as it has been monitoring Pyongyang's movements via military intelligence satellites which can analyse objects as small as 30 centimetres, the official was quoted as saying.

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