TOKYO (AFP) - Japan will order its armed forces to shoot down any North Korean missile headed towards its territory, press reports said on Sunday as Pyongyang was reportedly readying to fire one.
The order may be issued by Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera on Sunday or "in a day or two," the Yomiuri newspaper and the Jiji news agency reported.
The order would not be made public so as not to alarm the public, the Kyodo news agency quoted government sources as saying.
Under the order, Aegis destroyers equipped with sea-based interceptor missiles would be deployed in the Sea of Japan so they could intercept a North Korean missile if it appeared likely to land in Japanese territory, Kyodo said.
According to South Korean media, North Korea has loaded two intermediate-range missiles on mobile launchers and hidden them near its east coast, fuelling fear of an imminent launch that may further escalate tensions.
North Korea also also gave an evacuation advisory to some foreign embassies in the capital Pyongyang, warning it could not guarantee their safety after April 10 if a conflict broke out, although most appeared to be staying put.
Japan's defence ministry has issued such an order three times in the past - in April 2009 and in April and December last year - when North Korea launched what it called a satellite.
But this will be the first time that an order is issued before Pyongyang announces plans to launch a rocket.
"There is not a high possibility that the missile would target Japan, but we have determined we should prepare for any contingency," a government source told Kyodo.