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Neighbors angry over North Korea's satellite launch plans

Japan says it has a right to challenge any rocket fired across its territory. It suspects Pyongyang is trying to mask a long-range-missile test.

March 14, 2009|John M. Glionna

SEOUL — Neighbors of North Korea reacted angrily Friday to its announcement that it plans to launch a satellite into orbit, and say they suspect the effort masks plans for a long-range missile test.

Officials in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, informed international aviation and maritime agencies that the first stage of the rocket would splash down in the Sea of Japan and the second in the Pacific Ocean, which they identified as "danger zones" for shipping and aircraft.

Japan responded testily to the announcement, asserting that it had a right to challenge any rocket or dangerous foreign object fired across its territory, whether land or sea.

"Under our law, we can intercept any object if it is falling toward Japan, including any attacks on Japan, for our safety," Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said at a news conference.

North Korea says it will launch what it called an "experimental communications satellite Kwangmyongsong No. 2" between April 4 and 8 and insists that sending a satellite into space is a nonthreatening move.

The communist regime warned that it would retaliate against any nation that tried to interfere with the launch.

Officials in Tokyo said that even a satellite launch by North Korea would violate a 3-year-old U.N. Security Council resolution that bans the country from engaging in any ballistic missile launches.

"They can call it a satellite or whatever, but it would be a violation," Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso told reporters. "We protest a launch, and strongly demand it be canceled."

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said his country needed a stronger military. Visiting South Korea's naval academy, he said North Korea "is now threatening us everywhere -- on the ground, in the waters and in the air."

The Foreign Ministry warned that North Korea would face U.N. sanctions regardless of whether it fired a missile or a space vehicle.

For months, since intelligence satellites picked up evidence of an impending North Korean rocket launch, both Japan and South Korea have predicted that the secretive nation would test-fire a Taepodong 2 long-range missile that can travel more than 4,000 miles.

The United Nations has said a launch of any kind out of North Korea would damage peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and beyond.

Coordinates released Thursday by the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Maritime Organization show that one "danger zone" for the North Korean launch is less than 75 miles from Japan. The second is in the Pacific between Japan and Hawaii.

North Korea has launched two other missiles, in 1998 and 2006, but this is the first time it has provided details in advance.

U.S. National Intelligence Director Dennis C. Blair told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week that he thinks Pyongyang is about to launch a satellite, not test a missile.

But he cautioned that the technology involved in a space-launch vehicle "is indistinguishable from the intercontinental ballistic missile."

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john.glionna@latimes.com

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