Missile Destroyers Monitor North Korea Rocket Launch

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Japanese, South Korean and U.S.
missile-destroying ships set sail to monitor North Korea's imminent
rocket launch, as Pyongyang stoked tensions Monday by detaining a
South Korean worker for allegedly denouncing the North's political
system.

North Korea says it will send a communications satellite into
orbit between April 4 and 8. The U.S., South Korea and Japan
suspect the regime is using the launch to test long-range missile
technology, and warn it would face U.N. sanctions under a Security
Council resolution banning the country from any ballistic activity.

North Korea has threatened to quit international talks on its
nuclear disarmament if punished with sanctions. The communist
regime's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reiterated that warning
Sunday, saying the talks will "completely collapse" if taken to
the Security Council.

Further heightening tensions on the divided peninsula, North
Korean authorities detained a South Korean worker at a joint
industrial zone in the North for allegedly denouncing Pyongyang's
political system and inciting female northern workers to flee the
country.

North Korea assured Seoul it would guarantee the man's safety
during an investigation, according to the South Korean Unification
Ministry, which handles relations with the North.

The detention came as two American journalists working for
former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV media venture remained
in North Korean custody after allegedly crossing the border
illegally from China on March 17.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency said early Tuesday that
the two reporters would be indicted and tried for illegal entry and
"hostile acts." The report did not elaborate on what "hostile
acts" the journalists allegedly committed and did not say when a
trial might take place.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said
Monday that a Swedish diplomat met with the detained journalists,
Euna Lee and Laura Ling, individually over the weekend. Sweden
represents the U.S. in consular affairs in Pyongyang since the U.S.
and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement
expressing concern about the North's action against the reporters.
"We call on the North Korean government to explain the
circumstances of the detention of these two journalists," said Bob
Dietz, the group's Asia program coordinator.

South Korea has only been an observer to the Proliferation
Security Initiative, a U.S.-led program aimed at halting the spread
of weapons of mass destruction, but Seoul officials recently said
they were considering fully joining the program after the North's
rocket launch.

Seoul's participation would be treated as "a declaration of a
war," Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of
Korea said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central
News Agency.

In preparation for the rocket launch, Japan deployed Patriot
missiles around Tokyo and sent warships armed with interceptor
missiles to the waters between Japan and the Korean peninsula as a
precaution, defense officials said.

Japan's upper house of parliament unanimously passed a
resolution Tuesday urging North Korea to scrap its plan, saying it
would "damage peace and stability, not only in Japan but also in
northeast Asia."

Two U.S. destroyers anchored at a South Korean port after
holding military exercises with the South Korean navy also were
believed to have departed for waters near North Korea to monitor
the rocket launch.

The USS McCain and the USS Chafee left Busan on Monday, a U.S.
military spokesman said. He declined to disclose their destination
and spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he was not authorized
to discuss the ships' routes.

South Korea also planned to dispatch its Aegis-equipped
destroyer, according to a Seoul military official who spoke on
condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

Those warships of the three nations are equipped with
sophisticated combat systems enabling them to track and shoot down
enemy missiles. However, leaders of the three countries indicated
it was unlikely the warships would respond militarily to the
North's launch.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in an interview with
the Financial Times published Monday that his government opposed
any military response to the North's launch, saying that would be
unhelpful in talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a TV
interview aired Sunday that the U.S. had no plans to intercept the
North Korean rocket but might consider it if an "aberrant
missile" were headed to Hawaii "or something like that."

Japan initially hinted it might shoot down the rocket, but then
said it would fire interceptors only if debris from a failed launch
appeared likely to hit Japanese territory.


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