North Korea says will conduct rocket launch
Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North satellite imagery dated January 25, 2016 shows three objects at the base of the gantry tower that are either vehicles or equipment at Sohae Satellite Launching Station in North Korea in this image released on January 28, 2016. Reuters

North Korea has confirmed it will conduct a rocket launch imminently, angering neighbours and the US, who are worried that Pyongyang's real intention is to advance its missile technology under the guise of a satellite programme.

The US called for tougher sanctions against North Korea, while South Korea said any rocket launch will be a breach of UN resolutions and a "direct challenge" to the international community.

"Should the North push ahead with the long-range missile launch ... it would have to pay the price dearly," South Korean government said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the North leadership, saying the launch plan was a "serious provocation."

Earlier, the International Maritime Organization, a UN agency, said it had received notification from Pyongyang about the rocket launch.

"We have received information from DPRK regarding the launch of earth observation satellite 'Kwangmyongsong' between 8-25 February," a spokeswoman said, according to Reuters.

North Korea insisted the planned rocket launch, which will take place between February 8 and 25, is part of its space programme. The US and its allies say Pyongyang is pushing ahead with the development of an inter-continental ballistic missile.

Pyongyang's admission that it is planning a rocket launch comes after days of speculation about an imminent missile launch.

Analysis of satellite imagery had detected increased acidity at North's secretive Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongchang-ri.

Following this Japan put its self defence forces on alert for a potential ballistic missile launch, with instructions to destroy any missile fired in its direction.

On January 6 North Korea said it conducted a successful testing of a hydrogen bomb, worsening the security scenario in the region.