Japanese, South Korean and U.S. missile-destroying ships set sail to monitor North Korea's imminent rocket launch, as Pyongyang stoked tensions Monday by detaining a South Korean worker for allegedly denouncing the North's political system.
North Korea says it will send a communications satellite into orbit between Saturday and April 8. The U.S., South Korea and Japan suspect the regime is using the launch to test long-range missile technology, and warn it would face U.N. sanctions under a Security Council resolution banning the country from any ballistic activity.
North Korea has threatened to quit international talks on its nuclear disarmament if punished with sanctions. The communist regime's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reiterated that warning Sunday, saying the talks will “completely collapse” if taken to the Security Council.
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Further heightening tensions on the divided peninsula, North Korean authorities detained a South Korean worker at a joint industrial zone in the North for allegedly denouncing Pyongyang's political system and inciting female northern workers to flee the country.
North Korea assured Seoul it would guarantee the man's safety during an investigation, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North.
In preparation for the rocket launch, Japan deployed Patriot missiles around Tokyo and sent warships armed with interceptor missiles to the waters between Japan and the Korean peninsula as a precaution, defense officials said.
Two U.S. destroyers anchored at a South Korean port after holding military exercises with the South Korean navy also were believed to have departed for waters near North Korea to monitor the rocket launch.
The USS McCain and the USS Chafee left Busan on Monday, a U.S. military spokesman said. He declined to disclose their destination and spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he was not authorized to discuss the ships' routes.
South Korea also planned to dispatch its Aegis-equipped destroyer, according to a Seoul military official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
Those warships of the three nations are equipped with sophisticated combat systems enabling them to track and shoot down enemy missiles. However, leaders of the three countries indicated it was unlikely the warships would respond militarily to the North's launch.