N Korea `set for missile launch'

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The Independent Online
THREE MONTHS after causing consternation throughout Asia by launching a rocket over Japan, North Korea is on the verge of test-firing another long-range ballistic missile, according to Japanese reports.

Officials quoted in yesterday's Yomiuri Shimbun said North Korea has been transferring what are believed to be missile components from storage to a launch site. The observations were reportedly made by American satellites. The paper said similar movements were detected in summer, before the launching of the North Korean rocket over northern Japan. Pyongyang said it was to put a satellite into orbit but suspicions remain that it was a new missile, able to hit targets throughout Japan and even in Alaska.

Japan only learnt about the first missile from the US military after it landed in the Pacific. Japan's Defence Agency later said it intended launching its own spy satellites as an independent safeguard against similar incursions. The report, which was not independently confirmed, may have much to do with the need of the Japanese defence establishment to maintain public concern about the North Korean threat. Since the incident there have been signs of a hardening of attitudes towards North Korea. Since the election as president of the former dissident Kim Dae Jung, South Korea has adopted a "sunshine policy" towards its fraternal enemy. But in Washington and Tokyo there is a sense of exasperation and impatience.

North Korea is cited as the main justification for the 100,000 US servicemen stationed in Asia. North Korea is frequently accused by the US of selling missile technology to other "rogue" states, including Iran, Syria and Pakistan. Yesterday the Yomiuri said "observers from the Middle East" were suspected of having entered North Korea for the rocket launch. It quoted Japanese officials as saying North Korea may notify Tokyo in advance, but that there is little hope the launch will be postponed.

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