Japan orders military to prepare to destroy North Korea missile: Reports

An image taken from television footage released late on Jan 8, 2016, from North Korea's KCTV via AFPTV shows a missile being launched from underwater, from off the coast of North Korea, purportedly on Dec 21, 2015.
An image taken from television footage released late on Jan 8, 2016, from North Korea's KCTV via AFPTV shows a missile being launched from underwater, from off the coast of North Korea, purportedly on Dec 21, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan has ordered its military to be ready to destroy any missile fired by North Korea that threatens the country, local media reported on Friday (Jan 29), as concerns mount that Pyongyang is preparing a rocket launch.

Defence Minister Gen Nakatani issued the order, the Nikkei daily and Kyodo News reported, after reports of suspicious activity at Pyongyang's main satellite complex fuelled speculation a launch could come as early as next week.

A Japanese defence ministry spokesman declined to confirm the report when contacted by AFP, saying that "would reveal our strategy".

"But we are taking all possible measures to respond (to a missile launch) by collecting information and coordinating with countries concerned," she added.

North Korea is banned from using ballistic missile technology by UN Security Council resolutions, so any launch would further raise tensions among the international community only weeks after its latest nuclear test.

Two US defence officials confirmed to AFP on Friday that there was ongoing activity at the North's Sohae satellite complex, which Pyongyang has been upgrading to handle larger, longer-range rockets since 2013.

Their comments came after Japan's Kyodo News, citing an anonymous government source, said satellite imagery showed increased movement at Sohae that could suggest a launch as early as next week.

Also on Friday, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida held telephone talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry about the possible launch.

"We can't deny the possibility that North Korea will take further provocative action," Mr Kishida told reporters, adding that he and Kerry had "exchanged information on how to cooperate from now on".

Japan deployed surface-to-air missile defences in 2012, the same year North Korea put a satellite into orbit with its Unha-3 carrier.

Although Pyongyang insisted it was a purely scientific operation, that launch was condemned by the international community as a disguised ballistic missile test and resulted in a tightening of UN sanctions.