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Japan To Intercept North Korean Rocket If Airspace Violated

Japan announced Friday it will shoot down a North Korean rocket scheduled to be launched next month, if the space craft violates its airspace, escalating the prevailing tensions in the region over Pyongyang's planned rocket launch.

Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka told reporters in Tokyo that he has ordered the country's armed forces to remain prepared to intercept the rocket if it threatens Japan's territory.

Tanaka said he has also received a cabinet approval in this regard. Notably, he had the ordered the country's defense forces on Tuesday to prepare ''destruction measures against ballistic missiles.''.

The development comes after North Korea announced earlier this month plans to launch the rocket-mounted satellite between April 12 and 16 to mark the birth centenary of the country's founder Kim Il Sung, which falls on April 15.

Pyongyang insists that the planned rocket launch is intended to put the country's "technology of space use for peaceful purposes on a higher stage." But, the United States and its allies are viewing the satellite launch as an excuse for testing a missile.

Japan is particularly concerned over the North Korean plan, as the last rocket launched by the communist nation in April 2009 had passed over its territory. South Korea has already threatened to shoot down the rocket if it violated their air space.

The announcement about the planed rocket launch came just days after North Korea announced a moratorium on its nuclear tests, uranium enrichment, and long-range missile testing in exchange for food aid, following a third round of talks with the United States in Beijing last month.

In return to the North's positive gesture, Washington had agreed to meet with North Korean officials to finalize administrative details necessary to move forward with its proposed package of 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance with the prospect of additional aid based on continued need.

But, the United States confirmed Wednesday that it has suspended delivery of its planned food aid to North Korea over the Communist nation's plans to launch the rocket-mounted satellite in defiance of international concerns.

The US administration described Pyongyang's latest move as "highly provocative." The US-North Korea talks held in the Chinese capital last month were originally aimed at convincing the North to rejoin the currently stalled six nation aid-for-nuclear disarmament negotiations, involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan.

North Korea had agreed in 2005 to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for aid, but pulled out of the talks in April 2009 after the UN Security Council condemned it for launching a rocket and imposed sanctions on several of its firms.

Diplomatic efforts to restart the six-party talks gained momentum last year, but the death of North Korea's long-time leader Kim Jong-il on December 17 had left prospects for resumption of talks uncertain. The international community has since been keenly watching the country's untested new leader Kim Jong-un, who took over the regime after the death of his father Kim Jong-il.

by RTT Staff Writer

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