Engineers check the base of Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang.

North Korea has started fuelling a rocket that has drawn international criticism and is scheduled for launch within the next week, a media report said on Wednesday.

All preparations for the launch had been made, China's official Xinhua news agency reported from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Paek Chung Hou, the director of the mission control centre 20 kilometres north-west of Pyongyang, told journalists visiting the centre that a satellite had been placed on board the rocket and the rocket was being fuelled.

“We are sure that we will be successful,” the director was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

North Korea said the rocket would blast off between Thursday and Monday. The launch is to mark the 100th anniversary on April 15 of the birth of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung.

Some countries suspected that the Stalinist state is using the launch to test an intercontinental rocket capable of carrying an atomic warhead. North Korea said the launch is to put an Earth observation satellite into orbit. Space rockets and ballistic missiles are based on the same technology.

China, the United States, South Korea, Japan and other countries have expressed concern about the planned launch.

“I would just underscore that if North Korea wants a peaceful, better future for their people, it should not conduct another launch that would be a direct threat to regional security,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking after meeting with visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba.

“We are consulting closely in capitals and at the United Nations in New York, and we will be pursuing appropriate action,” she said. - Sapa-dpa