World

South Korea lights border Christmas tree following rocket launch

Sapa-AFP

South Koreans have lit a Christmas tree-shaped tower near the tense border with North Korea for the first time in two years.

The Christmas tree on the South Korean border. (AFP)

This following North Korea's launch of  a satellite aboard a long-range rocket.

Seoul's Defense Ministry said Sunday that it allowed Christian groups to light the massive steel tower Saturday. It's to stay lit until January 2.

Pyongyang views the tower as propaganda warfare, though it has not yet responded to this year's lighting.

The tree wasn't lit last year after officials asked Christians to refrain from doing so to avoid tension following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il last December.

Rocket launch
The lighting came 10 days after North Korea placed a satellite into orbit aboard a long-range rocket. South Korea and the US say the launch was a test of banned missile technology.

The launch amounted to the test of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a half-tonne payload over 10 000 kilometres, the South Korean defence ministry said on Sunday.

North Korea launched its three-stage Unha-3 rocket on December 12, insisting it was a purely scientific mission aimed at putting a polar-orbiting satellite in space.

Sunday's estimate was based on analysis of an oxidizer container – recovered from the rocket's first-stage splashdown site – which stored red fuming nitric acid to fuel the first-stage propellant.

"Based on our analysis and simulation, the missile is capable of flying more than 10 000 kilometres with a warhead of 500-600 kilograms," a defence ministry official told reporters.

Without any debris from the second and third stages to analyse, the official said it could not be determined if the rocket had re-entry capability – a key element of inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology.

Most of the world saw the North's rocket launch as a disguised ballistic missile test that violates UN resolutions imposed after Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

The success of the launch was seen as a major strategic step forward for the isolated North, although missile experts differed on the level of ballistic capability demonstrated by the rocket.

The debris collected by the South Koreans was made of an alloy of aluminium and magnesium with eight panels welded manually.

"Welding was crude, done manually," the ministry official said, adding that oxidiser containers for storing toxic chemicals are rarely used by countries with advanced space technology. – Sapa-AFP

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