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Japan's military prepares for launch

JAPAN'S military mobilized yesterday as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's scheduled rocket launch comes closer, ordering two missile-equipped destroyers to the Sea of Japan and sending batteries of Patriot missile interceptors to protect the northern coastline.

Pyongyang plans to launch its Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite at some time between April 4 and 8, a move that has stoked already heightened tensions in the region. The United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea suspect the DPRK will use the launch to test the delivery technology for a long-range missile.

Japan has said it will shoot down any dangerous object that falls its way if the launch doesn't go off successfully.

But it has been careful to say that it will not intervene unless its territory is in danger.

The DPRK said earlier this month that any attack on the satellite would be an act of war.

The US and South Korea prepared deployments of their own. Seoul is also dispatching an Aegis-equipped Sejong the Great destroyer off the east coast to monitor the launch, a military official in Seoul said.

Two US Aegis-equipped ships, docked at a ROK port, will set sail in the coming days, US military spokesman Kim Yong-kyu said.

As Japan's military got its orders yesterday, North Korea's preparations appeared to be moving ahead quickly, and South Korea's nuclear envoy headed to Washington as the three countries scrambled to coordinate a joint strategy for the launch.

North Korea mounted a rocket on a launch pad on its northeast coast, American intelligence officials say, putting Pyongyang well on track for the launch.

North Korea is now "technically" capable of launching the rocket in three to four days, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing an unnamed diplomatic official.

The US and South Korea warned on Thursday it would be a major provocation with serious consequences, and Japan's parliament was expected to issue a resolution next week demanding the launch be scrapped.

Regional powers have said any launch is banned under a 2006 UN Security Council resolution and would trigger sanctions.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that such a "provocative act" could jeopardize the stalled talks on supplying North Korea with aid in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program.

Of all the North's neighbors, Japan has reacted the most strongly because the satellite will fly over its airspace, and North Korea has designated a zone near Japan's northern coast where debris is likely to fall.

North Korea sent a similar rocket over Japan in 1998, prompting Tokyo to build up its missile defenses.

Yesterday, Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters he ordered the deployment of land-to-air and sea-to-air missile interceptors to the area at risk.

"We will make sure to eliminate anything that may cause us any damage," he said.


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