MOSCOW/TOKYO, April 5 (RIA Novosti) – North Korea has loaded two Musudan (No-dong B) intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) onto mobile launchers and deployed them to an undisclosed facility on its east coast, the Yonhap news agency cited South Korean military sources as saying on Friday, raising fears it could be about to carry out a test firing.
The deployment comes at a time of increasing tension between Pyongyang and the United States and its regional allies, Japan and South Korea.
Yonhap quoted military sources in Seoul as saying that the missiles, which have a range of 3,000-4,000 km (1,800-2,400 miles), or enough to hit the US military base on the Pacific island of Guam, were moved earlier this week to sites in the east of the country, prompting the US to deploy AEGIS air-defense vessels to the region.
Earlier reports said KN-08 (No-dong C) missiles had been deployed. KN-08 is a mobile ballistic missile that is still in its test and development phase, according to globalsecurity.org.
AEGIS ships are equipped with a powerful radar and missile system capable of engaging some ballistic missiles, according to the US Navy. South Korea has also deployed two of its AEGIS vessels to its east and west coasts, Yonhap reported, quoting military officials.
"If the DPRK [North Korea] fires a missile, we will monitor its trajectory," a South Korean naval official said, adding that land-based radars would track any launch.
American specialists believe a launch could take place between April 15-25 in honor of the 101st anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-Sung.
The Japanese government, meanwhile, decided on Friday to extend by two years unilateral sanctions against the DPRK, according to Kyodo news agency.
The sanctions, originally introduced in 2006, include an import ban on goods from North Korea, a ban on entry into Japanese ports for North Korean ships, and strict control of exports to Pyongyang. Japan announced it was stopping all trade with North Korea after the latter’s 2009 nuclear weapon test.
Tokyo's decision to extend its sanctions came in protest against Pyongyang's launch of a rocket carrying a satellite last year and its recent third nuclear test.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned his government on Friday to maintain vigilance regarding the events taking place in North Korea, Cabinet General Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
"The prime minister has given the order to the Cabinet to stay informed and be completely ready for an emergency situation in North Korea," he said, adding that Tokyo "deeply regrets the repeated provocative actions by the DPRK."
The motives for North Korea's missile deployments remain unclear. Some South Korean media have speculated that North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un, needs to appear bellicose to the United States to boost his credentials at home to military hawks. The North released details last week of a nuclear war strike plan against the US, although analysts believe Pyongyang does not yet have a viable capability for hitting America with nuclear weapons.