North Korea is reported to have removed missiles from launch sites on its eastern coast, according to US officials. Pyongyang has threatened to launch attacks on South Korea as well as US bases in the Pacific.
US defense officials said they had received information that on Monday North Korea moved two Musudan missiles from sites on the eastern coast, where they have been stationed on launch-ready status since the country threatened to launch an attack.
The move signals a possible easing of tensions after Pyongyang deployed the missiles to Wonson, on its eastern coast early in April.
Two US officials told the AFP news agency that the move meant there was no longer an imminent threat of a launch.
'Too early to know'
Sources also told the Reuters news agency that the missiles remained mobile and were still a threat. "It is premature to celebrate it as good news," senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council Daniel Russel told Reuters.
The move was nonetheless described by Pentagon spokesman George Little as "beneficial to efforts to ensure we have peace and stability on the Korean peninsula."
Officials in South Korea and the US had believed that the North might be preparing to test launch the missiles. With a range of 3,500 kilometers (2,100 miles), the weapons could pose a threat to US bases on the islands of Guam and Okinawa, which the North has already threatened to target.
'Sledgehammer' military threat
South Korea and Japan are also seen as possible targets, with Pyongyang warning Seoul of "sledgehammer" military action. That warning followed a protest against the North in South Korea, in which demonstrators set fire to effigies of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung. and former leader Kim Jong Il. The protest was described as a "monstrous criminal act" by Pyongyang, which demanded an apology from Seoul.
On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised recently elected South Korean President Park Guen-hye for her "firm but measured response" to North Korea's threats.
Japan and South Korea both beefed up their missile defenses following the threats, which came after UN sanctions were tightened against the country. That action was taken in response to a third underground nuclear test by the North in February and a rocket launch in December that delivered a satellite into space.
The US meanwhile deployed two destroyers with anti-missile equipment and a powerful radar system.
A test launch had been expected on or around April 15, the 101st birthday of the late Kim Il Sung.
rc/lw (AFP, Reuters, AP)