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S. Korea dispatches Aegis warships to monitor N. Korea missile launch
By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Navy has sent two Aegis destroyers equipped with advanced radar systems to both of its coasts as North Korea is moving closer to a missile launch, military officials said Friday.

   The 7,600-ton Aegis destroyers with SPY-1 radar, which can track hundreds of targets as far as 1,000 kilometers away, have been on standby on the east and west coasts of the Korean Peninsula to track missile launches by Pyongyang, according to a senior Navy official said.

   "If the North fires off a missile, we will trace its trajectory," the official said asking for anonymity citing confidential information.

  


The South Korean military is also operating the ground-based missile defense radar system Green Pine, and the early warning aircraft Peace Eye under stepped up military readiness status to prepare for a potential rocket launch, according to the officials.

   The latest move comes as the communist country has recently moved a medium-range missile to its east coast, as the U.S. strengthened its Pacific missile defenses and radar surveillance amid intensifying threats from Pyongyang.

   While Seoul's defense ministry didn't officially confirm the type of the missile, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin Thursday said the missile is believed to have a "considerable distance," which points to a medium-range missile.

   According to intelligence analysis, the component seen in the satellite imagery seems like a Musudan missile, which can fly about 3,000-4,000 km and is capable of hitting the U.S. base in Guam in the Pacific Ocean.

   The North has not yet conducted a test firing of the Musudan missile, which was first revealed to the international community in October 2010 during a military parade in Pyongyang.

   "We are closely monitoring North Korea's missile preparations, but it is not yet clear when and where it will fire off a missile," defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing. "We will step up our military posture if the North's missile affects us."
In response to media reports that the North may plan to launch a missile in the coming days or weeks, Kim said Pyongyang could pick a launching day it deems "meaningful," without elaboration.

   Outside watchers see a high chance that Pyongyang may launch the missile in mid-April to celebrate the April 15 birthday of Kim Il-sung, the communist nation's late founder and the young leader Kim Jong-un's grandfather, in a move to bolster the regime's grip on power.

   The North's apparent missile relocation has prompted the Pentagon to move its advanced missile defense system to its base on Guam along with radar systems.

   Meanwhile, the defense ministry has dispatched a team of inspectors to the front-line island of Yeonpyeong to look into a border crossing by a North Korean defector across the tensely guarded western sea border.

   The 28-year-old defector, who was living in the South, slipped through radar monitoring on Wednesday night to sail across the maritime border in the Yellow Sea, sparking security concerns at a time of military tensions with the North.

   "Investigations are currently underway," Kim said. "After the inspection, we'll figure out what kind of additional measures are needed" to strengthen border security.

   ejkim@yna.co.kr
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