Government officials refused to comment Thursday on reports that Pyongyang may be preparing to launch a Nodong ballistic missile, which can strike almost anywhere in Japan.

“We have varied information, but I should not talk about it,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters in the afternoon.

Nodong missiles have an estimated range of 1,300 km.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Thursday morning that the government has received information from the U.S. military in Japan, gathered mainly via satellite, that North Korean military vehicles are gathering at several Nodong missile launch sites.

The Mainichi Shimbun reported that drums believed to be containing liquid fuel for Nodong missiles were seen being transported from a storage area.

The Yomiuri said it has yet to confirm whether Pyongyang has fueled any Nodong missiles.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the government currently has “no information that validates (the reports).”

However, Fukuda admitted that a Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis destroyer has been dispatched to the Sea of Japan and will gather information.

Asked when the government will disclose information about a possible ballistic missile launch, Fukuda said: “We will do it when necessary. Whether to disclose the information will depend on the circumstances of the time.”

Separately, the Defense Agency said the situation regarding North Korea is not urgent and that it has not taken special measures to beef up its surveillance.

“We have not received any solid information confirming that North Korea is actually preparing a missile launch,” said Yasunari Ito, administrative vice defense minister. “We will continue usual surveillance activities.”

Myoko, one of Japan’s four Aegis-equipped destroyers, left its home port in Maihama last Friday on its way to the Sea of Japan. It had returned from a military drill only one day earlier.

The move, in addition to recent joint exercises involving the MSDF and the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, has invited speculation that Japan is stepping up its vigilance of Pyongyang.

Agency officials reiterated that Myoko’s deployment is part of an exercise planned at the beginning of this year.

They also maintained that the MSDF’s joint exercises with the Carl Vinson had nothing to do with the current tensions with North Korea.

In 1998, the Myoko tracked what Japan suspects was a Taepodong ballistic missile launched by Pyongyang. The missile flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific.

Meanwhile Toru Ishikawa, chairman of the Self-Defense Forces’ Joint Staff Council, said: “It will be useful to let the Aegis ship practice until the last minute to increase its capabilities.”

The Defense Agency recently said that once launched, a North Korean ballistic missile would reach the Japanese archipelago in about 10 minutes and that Japan has no defense against such an attack.

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