North Korea Threatens Launch Interruptions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea threatened Wednesday to
shoot down any U.S. spy planes that intrude into its airspace ahead
of a planned rocket launch.

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

Pyongyang's state radio accused U.S. RC-135 surveillance
aircraft of spying on the launch site on its northeast coast,
according to South Korea's Unification Ministry, which is in charge
of monitoring the North.

"If the brigandish U.S. imperialists dare to infiltrate spy
planes into our airspace to interfere with our peaceful satellite
launch preparations, our revolutionary armed forces will
mercilessly shoot them down," the ministry quoted the radio as
saying.

It was unclear what capability the North Korea has to shoot down
the high-flying Boeing RC-135, which can reach altitudes of nearly
10 miles (15 kilometers) high. The threat came a day after the
North claimed the U.S. and South Korea conducted about 190 spy
flights over its territory in March, including over the sea off the
launch site.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at a summit Tuesday
with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in London that
Pyongyang's launch would breach the U.N. resolution and pledged to
respond in step with Seoul, Lee's office said.

Lee, in London for the G-20 summit, told Brown it is important
for the international community to show a concerted response to the
North's move, his office said. Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso
also urged united action.

In the Netherlands, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton warned the North would face "consequences" in the
Security Council in the event of a launch.

She also strongly backed Japan's plans to shoot down any
incoming North Korean rocket debris, saying the country "has every
right to protect and defend its territory from what is clearly a
missile launch."

Japan has deployed battleships and Patriot missile interceptors
off its northern coast to shoot down any wayward rocket parts that
the North has said might fall over the area.

Tokyo has said it is only protecting its territory and has no
intention of trying to shoot down the rocket itself, but North
Korea said it is not convinced and accused Japan of inciting
militarism at home to justify developing a nuclear weapons program
of its own.

If Japan tries to intercept the satellite, the North's army
"will consider this as the start of Japan's war of re-invasion ...
and mercilessly destroy all its interceptor means and citadels with
the most powerful military means," the North's official Korean
Central News Agency said Tuesday.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank that
provides detailed analysis about North Korea - said in a report
that the country is believed to have "assembled and deployed
nuclear warheads" recently for its medium-range Rodong missiles,
which are capable of striking Japan.

But its Seoul-based expert, Daniel Pinkston, said it is unclear
if it has mastered the technology necessary to miniaturize the
warheads and put them on Rodong missiles, which have a range of 620
to 930 miles (1,000 to 1,500 kilometers).

The group called for a "calm, coordinated" response to the
launch, saying overreaction could jeopardize six-nation talks aimed
at ridding the North of nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang has
threatened to quit the negotiations if its "peaceful" space
program is taken up by the Security Council.

Kim Tae-woo, a missile expert at Seoul's state-run Korea
Institute for Defense Analyses, said a recent commercial image
shows a round-shaped top at the North's rocket, possibly suggesting
it could be a satellite as Pyongyang claims. But he stressed the
object could be designed to disguise a missile test.

"It was not shaped like a warhead," Kim said. "But the North
can put anything atop the rocket for a missile test as long as it
weighs the same as a warhead."

Two U.S. destroyers are believed to have departed from South
Korea to monitor the rocket launch. South Korea is also dispatching
its Aegis-equipped destroyer, according to a Seoul military
official who asked not to be named, citing department policy.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, the North announced
Tuesday it will indict and try two American journalists accused of
crossing the border illegally from China on March 17 and engaging
in "hostile acts."


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