TOKYO North Korea is preparing to launch a close- to mid-range ballistic missile separately from the long-range rocket that Pyongyang has said it will launch next month, the Sankei Japanese daily newspaper reported on Sunday.
The report comes as Pyongyang is poised to launch a communications satellite between April 4-8 that regional powers believe will actually be a test of a long-range missile, the Taepodong-2, which is already believed to be on its launch pad.
North Korea has given international agencies notice that the rocket's planned trajectory should take it over Japan, dropping booster stages to its east and west. Any attempt to shoot the rocket itself down would be an act of war, it has said.
The reclusive state may fire the short- to mid-range missile shortly after the long-range missile is launched, Sankei said, quoting unidentified Japanese government sources.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported on Sunday that Japan's Air Self-Defense Force had started to deploy units capable of shooting down a rocket to the northern prefectures of Akita and Iwate.
Units carrying Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles left a base in central Japan early on Sunday and expected to arrive at the northern prefectures on Monday, NHK said.
A spokesman for Japan's Ministry of Defense said he was not immediately able to comment on the reports.
Japan deployed two ballistic missile destroyers to the Sea of Japan on Saturday to intercept any dangerous debris in the event that the controversial missile launch planned by North Korea goes wrong.
(Reporting by Yuzo Saeki; Editing by Paul Tait)