Japan urges halt to N. Korea rocket launch plan

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba speaks to reporters at his office in Tokyo on March 16, 2012.

TOKYO - Japan on Friday urged North Korea to abandon its plan to launch what it says is a satellite, saying any rocket firing would be in contravention of international rules and could damage regional stability.

"Whether this is a satellite or a ballistic missile, it is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions," chief cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters.

"We will strongly demand self-restraint and urge North Korea not to go ahead with the launch.

Pyongyang announced earlier in the day that it would launch the rocket between April 12-16 to put a satellite into orbit and mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding president Kim Il-Sung.

The announcement triggered alarm in Japan, which is regularly on the receiving end of North Korean barbs, and was under the flight path of previous rocket launches.

In 2009, Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket over Japan in what it claimed at the time was an attempt to get a satellite into orbit. Tokyo and its allies said it was a ballistic missile test.

"(A test) could damage the stability of the region," Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told reporters, adding it would be "regrettable" if North Korea pressed ahead with its plan.

Gemba said he would press China to play a role in reining in its erratic ally and he vowed to work towards an international response to Pyongyang.

"I have immediately instructed staff to gather information and deal with the matter in cooperation with the United States, South Korea and other countries concerned," he told lawmakers.

Friday's announcement from the hermit state came just 16 days after the North's new leaders agreed to suspend long-range missile tests as part of a deal under which it would receive 240,000 tonnes of US food aid.

Pyongyang also promised to freeze its uranium enrichment plant under the agreement.

"We are concerned that the launch may put back efforts towards resolving various problems through dialogue," Fujimura said.

Defence Minister Naoki Tanaka told the lower house's security committee he had ordered surveillance and would be taking "all possible measures in order to maintain peace and security for our country".

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