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Japan's navy prepares for missile

JAPAN deployed two ballistic missile destroyers to the Sea of Japan yesterday to intercept any dangerous debris in the event that a controversial missile launch planned by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea goes wrong, Japanese defence officials said.

The DPRK has said it would launch a communications satellite between April 4 and 8 that Japan and some other countries 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.

Yesterday morning Japan deployed destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors to the Sea of Japan, which lies between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese archipelago.

The destroyers are also equipped with sophisticated Aegis combat radar systems. A third Aegis-equipped defence ship left another base for the Pacific Ocean, where the missile is expected to land, a Japanese official said.

The United States, Japan's main security ally, is set to deploy two Aegis-equipped ships with missile defence capabilities from the port of Busan in Republic of Korea tomorrow, a US military official said yesterday.

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, Pyongyang has said.

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

Japan, South Korea and the US have pledged to punish Pyongyang if it goes ahead with the launch, condemning it as a violation of UN resolutions imposed on the DPRK for earlier weapons tests.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso repeated his criticism of the planned launch.

"They're launching a missile and calling it a rocket. Nowhere else in the world will you find a country that will launch a test missile squarely over someone else's country," Kyodo News quoted Aso as saying yesterday.

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


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