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Japan orders missile units to intercept North Korean rocket if territory threatened
TOKYO (AP) ' Japan's defense minister on Friday ordered missile units to intercept a rocket expected to be launched by North Korea next month if it or its fragments threaten to hit Japan.
The order from Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka came at a meeting of Japan's national security council. It followed instructions issued earlier in the week for the military to prepare to intercept the rocket if it enters Japanese territory.
The Unha-3 rocket is expected to fly past western Japan after its launch from North Korea's west coast sometime between April 12 and 16. The plan has raised concerns that a failed launch, or a falling stage of the rocket, could endanger Japanese lives or property.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura urged people to stay calm, saying the military is preparing "just in case."
"We don't believe anything would fall over Japan's territory. Please carry out your daily lives and business as usual," he said.
A statement from the Defense Ministry said Japan would send destroyers equipped with Aegis missile defense systems to the Pacific and East China Sea and deploy mobile Patriot missile launchers to islands in Okinawa. An interceptor missile unit is also likely to be deployed in Tokyo, although the capital is far from the expected flight path.
North Korea has said the aim of the launch is to send a satellite into orbit. Japan, the United States and other countries claim it is also seeking to test the capabilities of its long-range missiles, in violation of international agreements.
Seoul has also warned it might shoot down any parts of the North Korean rocket heading for South Korean territory.
Japan mobilized its interceptor units and issued a similar warning to North Korea before a rocket launch in 2009, but did not follow through.
Interceptor missiles on the Japanese destroyers would serve as the first line of defense, and the land-based Patriot missiles would be a backup. Japan has successfully tested its interceptor missiles, but has never used them in a real-world situation.