Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Tokyo protests N Korean launch

SHOOT IT DOWN Japanese authorities said it would be their legal right to target a North Korean missile if it flies over Japanese air space on a satellite test launch


Japan strongly protested North Korea’s planned satellite launch, warning yesterday it could shoot down the rocket after Pyongyang said it would fly over Japan and designated a “danger” zone off the country’s coast.

North Korea has given UN agencies coordinates forming two zones where parts of its multiple-stage rocket would fall, unveiling its plan to fire the projectile over Japan toward the Pacific Ocean in the launch set for sometime between April 4 and April 8.

One of the “danger” zones where the rocket’s first stage is expected to fall lies in waters less than 120km from Japan’s northwestern shore, coordinates released by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) showed on Thursday.

The other zone lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between Japan and Hawaii.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told North Korea to abandon the rocket plan and said Japan was ready to defend itself.

“We can legally shoot down one for safety in case an object falls toward Japan,” he said.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan would “deal with anything that is flying toward us. We are preparing for any kind of emergency.”

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso also expressed anger.

“They can call it a satellite or whatever, but it would be a violation” of a 2006 UN Security Council resolution banning Pyongyang from ballistic missile activity, the Japanese prime minister said. “We protest a launch, and strongly demand it be canceled.”

Japan’s Coast Guard and Transport Ministry issued maritime and aviation warnings, urging ships and aircraft to stay away from the affected regions.

South Korea also warned Pyongyang.

“If North Korea carries out the launch, we believe there will be discussions and countermeasures from the Security Council,” the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement, referring to possible sanctions.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that a North Korean satellite or missile launch would “threaten the peace and stability in the region.”

Though it is an international norm for countries to provide such specifics as a safety warning ahead of a missile or satellite launch, it was the first time North Korea has done so. It did not issue a warning ahead of its purported satellite launch in 1998 over Japan and a failed 2006 test-flight of a long-range missile.

North Korea’s notification to the ICAO and IMO underscores the communist regime is intent on pushing ahead with the launch in an attempt to gain greater leverage in negotiations with the US, analysts say.

“They want to do the launch openly while minimizing what the international community may find fault with,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University. “The launch will earn North Korea a key political asset that would enlarge its negotiating leverage.”

US State Department spokesman Robert Wood called the North’s plan “provocative.”

“We think the North needs to desist, or not carry out this type of provocative act, and sit down ... and work on the process of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Wood said.

Analysts, including Kim, say a rocket launch would raise the stakes and, more importantly, the benefits the impoverished nation might get from negotiations with the US and other countries trying to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons program.

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