DPRK's West Sea Satellite Launch Site on Google Map. (Xinhua/File Photo)
SEOUL -- The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) said Wednesday it successfully fired off a long-range rocket mounted with a satellite, defying expectations that technical problems might delay or even call off the mission that has drawn international attention.
"The second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 successfully lifted off from the Sohae Space Center by carrier rocket Unha-3 on Wednesday," the DPRK's official Korean Central News Agency said, adding the satellite entered orbit.
The launch was the DPRK's second bid of the year and its fifth attempt since 1998 to launch a long-range rocket that Washington and its key Asian allies say is a disguised ballistic missile test and a violation of UN resolutions.
Pyongyang, whose previous mission in April ended in failure, has countered that the satellite is for peaceful scientific purposes only and that it would abide by international regulations.
South Korea's defense ministry said the first stage of the rocket fell in the Yellow Sea off Byeonsan-bando in South Korea's North Jeolla Province. The Japanese government also said the rocket passed the southern island chain of Okinawa at around 10:01 a.m. local time and fell in waters off the Philippines shortly afterwards.
The move came after the authorities here said the DPRK seemed to have removed the rocket from the launch pad in an apparent attempt to fix technical problems Pyongyang cited when it extended the launch window by one week until Dec. 29.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency security meeting immediately after the launch, and intelligence authorities here are reportedly in consultations with their U.S. and Japanese counterparts to track the rocket.
South Korea's foreign minister Kim Sung-hwan said in an official statement the launch violates the UN resolution that bans the DPRK from conducting additional nuclear and missile tests, adding Pyongyang will face "further international isolation."
The controversial launch came before the first anniversary of the Dec. 17 death of former top DPRK leader Kim Jong Il and as crucial elections fast approach in South Korea and Japan. Observers here say the launch is also meant to test the second Obama administration and the new leadership in China.