SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been touring the province where the country has been preparing for a rocket launch, the North's media said on Wednesday, in what a South Korean daily said could be a precursor of a launch.
North Korea said on Tuesday it planned to launch a satellite on a rocket as a part of a peaceful space program. Analysts said the launch would actually be the test-firing of its long-range Taepodong-2 missile designed to strike U.S. territory.
Kim provided field guidance at a food factory, a central bank branch and the memorial for his mother Kim Jong-suk in the city of Hoeryong in North Hamgyong province.
This was one of several trips reported in the past few days which have taken Kim near the North's known east coast missile launch site in Musudan.
South Korea's biggest daily newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, said Kim made a similar round of field guidance visits to the same remote area of North Korea weeks before the last test-firing of its longest-range Taepodong-2 missile in 2006.
On Monday, KCNA said the leader toured a military base. The Chosun Ilbo said the base is part of the North's missile program and was on Kim's itinerary before the 2006 launch.
South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman declined to confirm the nature of the base Kim visited.
The Taepodong-2, supposed to have a range that will take it to Alaska, fizzled just seconds into that 2006 flight and destructed.
The United States is monitoring the missile preparations on the same launch pad used in the failed 2006 test, but there is no sign of an actual missile, U.S. officials said on Tuesday, adding Washington believes Pyongyang is preparing for some sort of launch but may be moving cautiously to avoid another failure.
North Korea stunned the region when it fired a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan in 1998, saying it had launched a satellite.
If the Taepodong-2 flies successfully, Pyongyang would have a missile with a maximum range of 4,200 miles, designed to eventually carry a nuclear warhead that could hit U.S. territory, but not the contiguous 48 states, analysts said.
Proliferation experts have said the North, which tested a nuclear device in 2006, does not have the technology to make a nuclear weapon small enough to mount as a warhead.
It does not matter if it is a satellite or a ballistic missile because they use similar technology, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee told parliament on Tuesday, Yonhap news agency said.
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Jerry Norton)