March 28, 2009 / 4:07 AM / 10 years ago

Japan deploys defence for North Korea rocket launch

(For more stories on the planned launch click [ID:nSP469853]) (Adds U.S. deployment)

By Chang-Ran Kim

TOKYO, March 28 (Reuters) - Japan deployed two ballistic missile destroyers to the Sea of Japan on Saturday to intercept any dangerous debris in the event that a controversial missile launch planned by North Korea goes awry.

Pyongyang has said it would launch a communications satellite between April 4-8 that regional powers believe will actually be a test of its long-range missile, the Taepodong-2, which is already believed to be on its launch pad at a North Korean missile base.

On Saturday morning, Japan deployed two Aegis-equipped destroyers with Standard Missile-3 interceptors to the Sea of Japan, which lies between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago, a Defense Ministry official said.

A third Aegis-equipped defence ship left another base for the Pacific Ocean, where the missile is expected to land, the official said.

The United States, Japan’s main security ally, meanwhile, is set to deploy two Aegis-equipped ships with missile defence capabilities from the South Korean port of Busan on the 30th, a U.S. military official said on Saturday.

The official declined to disclose their destination or mission.


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.

Japan’s constitution does not allow it to intercept a missile if it is clearly heading elsewhere.

Regional powers Japan, South Korea and the United States have pledged to punish Pyongyang if it goes ahead with the launch, condemning the act as a violation of U.N. resolutions imposed on the hermetic state for earlier weapons tests.

In its only previous test flight in 2006, the Taepodong-2 either blew up or was deliberately destroyed after failing just after launch.

Japanese officials say the chances that debris will fall on its territory were slim and have called on the public not to panic.

On Friday Japan began deploying its ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors, with units leaving Iruma air base northwest of Tokyo to be positioned closer to the political and financial centres of the capital.

Top nuclear envoys from Japan, South Korea and the United States were to meet in Washington on Friday in a sign of growing concern over the launch in the first big test for U.S. President Barack Obama in dealing with the prickly North.

Russia has said North Korea should abstain from testing the rocket, calling for dialogue with Pyongyang. (Additional reporting by Cheon Jong-woo in SEOUL; Editing by David Fox)

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