Tongchang-Ri (North Korea): North Korean space officials have moved all three stages of a long-range rocket into position for a controversial launch, vowing to push ahead with their plan in defiance of international warnings against violating a ban on missile activity.

The Associated Press was among foreign news agencies allowed a firsthand look on Sunday at preparations under way at the coastal Sohae Satellite Station in northwestern North Korea.

North Korea announced plans last month to launch an observation satellite using a three-stage rocket during mid-April celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.

The US, Japan, Britain and other nations have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, warning that firing the long-range rocket would violate UN resolutions and North Korea's promise to refrain from engaging in nuclear and missile activity.

North Korea maintains that the launch is a scientific achievement intended to improve the nation's faltering economy by providing detailed surveys of the countryside.

"Our country has the right and also the obligation to develop satellites and launching vehicles," Jang Myong Jin, general manager of the launch facility, said during a tour, citing the UN space treaty.

"No matter what others say, we are doing this for peaceful purposes."

Experts say the Unha-3 rocket slated for liftoff between April 12 and 16 could also test long-range missile technology that might be used to strike the US and other targets. Unha  galaxy in English.
North Korea has tested two atomic devices, but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a warhead on a long-range missile.

On Sunday, reporters were taken by train past desolate fields and sleepy farming hamlets to North Korea's new launch pad in Tongchang-ri in North Phyongan province, about 50 kilometers (35 miles) south of the border town of Sinuiju along North Korea's west coast.