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Missile warning to N Korea

Tokyo, June 18 (Reuters): Japan today warned North Korea of “a harsh response” from Tokyo and Washington if it went ahead with the launch of a long-range missile.

Amid reports that a launch was imminent, a Japanese official quoted by the Sankei Shimbun daily said North Korea’s leadership had told people to raise the flag at 2:00 pm (0500 GMT) and monitor television for a “message to the people”.

The time came and went without any reports of a missile test. Japan’s Jiji Press news agency reported that Japanese defence agency officials had concluded that a launch was not imminent, but that monitoring would continue.

A South Korean government official had cautioned against reading too much into Pyongyang’s instructions.

The official, quoted by Yonhap news agency, noted Monday marked the 42nd anniversary of the start of leader Kim Jong-il’s career at the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and that people were urged to watch TV on June 18 last year.

The Korea Central News Agency later issued a statement noting the anniversary, but also lambasting the US and Japan for their bellicose attitude towards North Korea.

“The Korean army and people will do their best to increase the military deterrent with sharp vigilance to cope with the moves of the US, which is hell-bent on provocations for war of aggression on the DPRK,” it said without mentioning a missile. The DPRK refers to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

CBS News reported that South Korea’s ambassador to the US, Lee Tae-sik, had told Korean correspondents in Washington that Pyongyang may have fuelled a missile already.

“Satellite photos confirmed scores of fuel tanks near the missile launch pad,” he said. “We are not sure whether they had already completed fuelling or located (the tanks) there to fuel it.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow on a CBS television show reminded that in 1999 North Korea declared a moratorium on missile testing and had signed a memorandum in September 2005, which committed it to pursuing peace and security within the region. “We certainly hope they’re going to continue to abide by their agreement,” Snow said.

Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso said his country would seek an immediate meeting of the UN Security Council if Pyongyang went ahead with a test.

He voiced concern about the possibility of a missile landing on Japan. Aso stopped short of saying what Japan and the US would do in the event of a launch. But he said: “The responses will be rather harsh”.

Many experts have said North Korea has missiles that can hit all of South Korea and probably all of Japan. The secretive communist state has been modernising its arsenal and trying to improve problems with accuracy.

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