Countries angered by N. Korea's plans to launch satellite

March 14, 2009|By John M. Glionna | John M. Glionna,Los Angeles Times

SEOUL, South Korea -North Korea's neighbors reacted angrily to its announcement of a plan to launch a satellite into orbit, and they say they suspect the effort masks plans for a long-range missile test.

Officials in Pyongyang 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 it identified as "danger zones" for shipping and aircraft.

Japan responded testily to the announcement, asserting yesterday 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 an "experimental communications satellite Kwangmyongsong No. 2" between April 4 and 8 and insists that sending a satellite into space is not a threatening gesture. Pyongyang warned that it will retaliate against any nation that tries to interfere with the launch.

Officials in Tokyo said that a satellite launch by North Korea violates a three-year-old U.N. Security Council resolution that bans North Korea from engaging in ballistic missile launches.

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

South Korea's Foreign Ministry echoed the concerns.

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

The U.N. 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 was less than 75 miles from Japan's shoreline. The second lies in the Pacific Ocean between Japan and Hawaii.

North Korea has conducted two other missile launches, in 1998 and 2006, but this is the first time that it has provided details in advance.

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