Thu Apr 2, 3:56 PM
SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea's military threatened Thursday to attack "major targets" in Japan if Tokyo tries to shoot down a satellite it intends to launch as soon as this weekend.
"If Japan recklessly 'intercepts' the DPRK's (North's) satellite for peaceful purposes, the KPA will mercilessly deal deadly blows not only at the already deployed intercepting means but at major targets," said a statement from the Korean People's Army (KPA).
Japan, South Korea and the United States see the North's plan to launch a communications satellite some time between April 4 and 8 as a disguised test of a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile which could in theory reach Alaska or Hawaii.
US defence officials said Thursday they had detected "propellant activity" at a North Korea rocket, but said it was uncertain that Pyongyang had begun fuelling ahead of its planned launch.
A US defence official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP "it's ambiguous" if North Korea has begun fuelling the rocket.
But CNN quoted a senior US military official as saying the North had begun fuelling its rocket in a sign it could launch as early as this weekend.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso was later Thursday quoted as saying by the Kyodo news agency that it could be on Saturday.
Japan and the United States have deployed anti-missile Aegis destroyers to monitor the launch.
Tokyo has also deployed Patriot guided-missile units on land, and says it will try to bring down the rocket should it start falling toward Japanese territory.
Tokyo may toughen existing bilateral sanctions by halting all exports to Pyongyang and tightening restrictions on financial transactions, said government spokesman Takeo Kawamura.
Japan also said it would call for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council if North Korea went ahead with the launch.
"Japan will request an urgent meeting of the Security Council to discuss this issue," Yukio Takasu, its ambassador to the UN, told reporters.
Recent satellite photos appear to confirm the North has indeed mounted a satellite atop the missile, US experts say.
But the US and its regional allies say a satellite launch also tests missile technology, and the North would breach a UN resolution passed after its 2006 missile launches and underground nuclear test.
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak and US President Barack Obama called Thursday for "stern, unified action" by the international community in response to any launch when they met in London on the sidelines of the G20 summit, according to the Seoul presidential office.
South Korea is actively considering playing a full part in the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative if the rocket is fired, its foreign ministry said.
The initiative aims to halt ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction and related materials. The North's Minju Joson newspaper responded that any such move would amount to a "declaration of war."
Yonhap news agency, quoting a government source, said the North has moved a MiG-23 squadron -- between 12 and 24 planes -- to the northeast, where the Musudan-ri launch site is located. On Wednesday Pyongyang threatened to shoot down US spy planes monitoring the site.
Seoul's defence ministry declined comment.
More than 100 people demonstrated in central Seoul, torching North Korean flags and a miniature replica of a missile. "Punish Kim Jong-Il over missile launch," they shouted about the North's leader.
Pyongyang has said that even a UN discussion of its launch -- let alone new sanctions -- would trigger the breakdown of international nuclear disarmament talks.
UN resolutions bar Pyongyang from missile-related activities.
However, the North has signed on to international space treaties and analysts believe China and Russia would block any new sanctions move on the grounds that the resolutions do not cover satellite launches.
Moscow urged North Korea's neighbours on Thursday to hold back from military action over the issue.
Meanwhile Taiwan called on North Korea to exercise restraint in launching the rocket, saying the plan had threatened peace in the region.
"As a member of Northeast Asia, we're very concerned about it," the country's foreign ministry said in a statement.
More than 100 activists burn a miniature replica of a missile during a rally in...
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