TOKYO – North Korea could be preparing to fire a missile in the latest of several launchings in recent years, according to news reports Friday.
A missile was moved close to a launch site in northeastern North Korea in recent days, Japan's national broadcaster NHK said. The report quoted unnamed South Korean government officials, which cited satellite photographs.
Japan's Kyodo News agency carried a similar story, attributing it to a "source familiar with the North Korean situation."
Defense analysts say such movement could indicate preparations for a launch. The reports said there was no indication when that would occur.
There was no official confirmation: Japanese defense officials weren't answering phones Friday morning, the U.S. military in South Korea refused to comment, and South Korea's government said it was checking the reports.
North Korea shocked Japan in 1998 by blasting a Taepodong-1 missile over its territory and into the Pacific Ocean. The North said it was an attempt to put a satellite in orbit.
Although North Korea announced a moratorium on missile tests in 1999, it has since test-fired short-range missiles many times, including two launched into waters off its eastern coast in early March.
Concern of the North's missile capability has prompted Japan — separated from the North by 500 miles — to boost its defense capabilities.
In March 2003, Japan put its first two spy satellites into space to watch North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. It has also been working with the United States to enhance its anti-missile defenses.
Defense analysts say North Korea's ballistic missiles are capable of hitting all of Japan as well as Hawaii, Alaska and perhaps portions of the U.S. Pacific coast.