, SEOUL, Apr 1 – North Korea threatened Wednesday to shoot down any US spy planes violating its airspace to monitor an imminent rocket launch, as a think-tank cautioned that any international over-reaction to the event could spark a war.
The North’s warning on state radio followed its accusations Tuesday that US planes had stepped up flights over the northeast where the Musudan-ri missile site is located.
The North has announced it will launch a communications satellite some time between April 4-8.
The United States, South Korea and Japan call this a pretext for a "provocative" test of a long-range ballistic missile in violation of UN resolutions. They say they will report the launch to the Security Council.
On Wednesday the North’s Korean Central Broadcasting Station denounced US spy planes for monitoring preparations.
"Should the US imperialist racketeers dare to intrude espionage planes into our territorial sky, interfering with our preparations for a satellite launch for peaceful purposes, our revolutionary forces will shoot them down unsparingly," it said.
The communist state’s official media said Tuesday that US and South Korean planes had conducted "intensive" espionage every day from March 9 to 20.
It said a US RC-135 plane made shuttle flights between Musudan-ri and the north-eastern port of Wonsan on March 13, 17 and 22.
"This is a wanton infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK (North Korea) and another dangerous military provocation to it," it said.
The likely launch date was unclear. South Korea’s weather centre forecast cloud over the area Saturday, making a launch less likely, and partially cloudy skies for three days from Sunday.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said the prospective launch "fits a pattern of North Korean attention-seeking when faced with stresses at home, political changes abroad or failure to get what it wants in negotiations."
But the influential Brussels-based conflict resolution body said an "overblown" international response could wreck nuclear disarmament talks, strengthen hardliners in Pyongyang and even risk a war.
Any use of missile defences against the rocket could in the worst case "risk a war with potentially devastating damage to South Korea, Japan and the world economy," it said in a report.
Japan has deployed anti-missile systems to try to bring down the rocket should it start falling toward Japanese territory, while the US says it intends to try an intercept.
The North says even a discussion of the launch in the Security Council would wreck the six-party nuclear disarmament talks, while any interception would mean war.
The talks group the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
The ICG urged the other five members to agree to "a moderate set of measures that maintains their unity in the face of North Korea’s provocation."
It said the Taepodong-2 missile does not pose a significantly increased risk to Japan, since the North’s Rodong missile can already carry a nuclear warhead as far as Tokyo.
The report quoted intelligence sources as saying such warheads are believed to have been assembled for the Rodong.
"The Taepodong-2 could possibly reach Alaska but the likelihood of such a strike is negligible, since the North knows it would be devastated in any response," it said.
"The launch of a Taepodong-2 also takes weeks to prepare; in a time of considerable tensions the missile could be destroyed on the (launch) pad."
Amid rising tensions, tight security was in force for North Korea’s visiting football squad, which was to play South Korea Wednesday evening in Seoul in a World Cup qualifier.
Chosun Ilbo newspaper said some 30 bodyguards accompanied the squad on a Tuesday visit to their hotel gym and about 90 police were deployed in the vicinity.