Japan has completed the deployment of a land-based system of interceptor missiles in preparation for a planned North Korean rocket launch later this month.
The exercise was finalised in Okinawa on Thursday, days after a similar deployment was completed on Monday in Naha, the capital of Okinawa prefecture.
The interceptors would be ready to shoot down any parts of the rocket that veer into Japan’s airspace.
Kunisaki, a transport ship in the Maritime Defence Force, carried the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptors to the port on Ishigaki island to be installed facing towards the controversial rocket’s planned route.
With the PAC-3’s arrival in Ishigaki, the island closest to the area of the rocket’s trajectory, interceptors are now positioned at four locations in Okinawa, including the military bases in Naha, Miyako and Chinen.
Mobile missile launchers, in addition to the ones in Okinawa, will be positioned in the Tokyo metropolitan area in the next few days.
Meanwhile, the US on Thursday urged North Korea anew not to launch a long-range rocket after a pro-Pyongyang newspaper hinted of a new nuclear test in the expected fallout from its plans.
Choson Sinbo, a newspaper in Japan that generally reflects North Korea’s official thinking, warned that Pyongyang’s moratorium on nuclear tests “can be canceled” if the US ends plans for food aid.
Pyongyang in February agreed to suspend operations at its Yongbyon uranium enrichment plant and impose a moratorium on long-range missile tests and nuclear tests, in return for 240,000 tonnes of US food aid.
Washington last week said it was suspending plans to start food deliveries in light of the imminent rocket launch.
North Korea’s “Unha-3” rocket is expected to fly over western Japan, including part of Okinawa, after it is launched from a pad on North Korea’s west coast between April 12-16.
Japan has raised concerns that a failed launch, or a failing stage of the rocket, could endanger Japanese lives or property.
In addition to the PAC-3s, anti-missile equipped destroyers will be deployed to the Pacific and East China Sea. Tokyo took the same measures in 2009 over an earlier North Korean missile launch.
They deployed warships with anti-missile systems, positioned patriot missile interceptors and established a system to warn residents when the rocket was approaching.
Japan’s intentions were not to shoot down the rocket but to have self-defence forces on standby to intercept any fragments of a missile should the launch fail.
Japan, the US and other countries claim the North is seeking to test the capabilities of its long-range missiles, in violation of international agreements.
The North says the launch is to put a satellite into orbit in honour of the 100th birthday of the country’s late founder, Kim Il-Sung.
Meanwhile, North Korea unveiled a huge rock carving on Thursday in memory of the founding leader. The inscription covering a length of 37m was hewn into a natural rockface near Pakyon Falls in Kaesong city, near the border with South Korea, the official news agency said.
The message said: “Our eternal leader Comrade Kim Il-Sung: Dedicated to the centenary of the birth of the leader, April 15, Juche 101 (2012) … an immortal monument which will always shine”, the news agency said.
Kim Il-Sung died in 1994 and handed power to his son Kim Jong-Il, who died last December after bequeathing the leadership to his own son Kim Jong-Un.
The North, which fosters a massive personality cult surrounding the Kims, has inscribed messages praising the dynasty on hundreds of rocks and cliffsides. Analysts say the regime is trying to build loyalty to the Kim dynasty and in particular to the young and untested new leader.
Other work has been continuing round the clock on apartment blocks and other construction projects timed to mark the anniversary, according to a foreign resident in the showpiece capital Pyongyang.
The country on Thursday also unveiled one of its biggest construction projects in recent years: a massive hydroelectric
power station that is expected to provide the nation with much-needed electricity.
Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s new leader, had visited the construction site with his father in August 2011.
New economic goals announced in 2009 called for undertaking major projects such as the Huichon Power Station, as well as modernising farms and factories in time for the April 2012 festivities.