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LEAD: Hosoda plays down seriousness of reported N. Korean missile launch.

TOKYO, May 2 Kyodo

(EDS: CHANGING DATELINE, UPDATING WITH HOSODA REMARKS)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda on Monday played down the seriousness of North Korea's reported launch of a short-range missile, telling reporters there is ''nothing special'' to say about the incident.

''It is apparently a fact that tests have been conducted from time to time. There is nothing special to speak of,'' he told reporters.

The launch of such a short-range missile would not infringe on the 2002 Japan-North Korean Pyongyang Declaration, under which North Korea promised to maintain its moratorium on missile launches beyond 2003.

''It is not a missile with a range of hundreds of kilometers to fly over the open sea,'' he said.

The timing of the reported launch ''would not have anything to do with Japan,'' he said. ''We believe it would have been something like an ordinary domestic military drill.''

He said the information on the missile launch on Sunday morning has not been confirmed.

Japanese government sources said Sunday that North Korea may have launched a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan on Sunday morning, citing information given to Japan's Defense Agency by the U.S. military.

The intelligence, believed to be based on a U.S. early warning satellite and other data, said a missile was launched from North Korea's east coast shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday and plunged into the Sea of Japan.

Japanese Defense Agency Director General Yoshinori Ono told reporters Sunday night in Manila that it would not pose a danger to Japan.

''We have received information that a short-range missile was test-fired,'' the Japanese defense chief told reporters. ''As long as it is short-range, it would not cause problems to Japan's security.''

Ono, however, criticized North Korea, saying, ''Why would they have to conduct such a test when suspicions over nuclear and missile development have been cast over them.''

Ono was in the Philippines for meetings with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Philippine defense officials.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:May 2, 2005
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