SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea has installed the first stage of a long-range rocket it plans to launch this month in position, defying growing international calls to cancel the mission, a report said Monday.

North Korea announced Saturday that it would carry out its second long-range rocket launch this year between December 10 and 22.

The United States and its key Asian allies South Korea and Japan have condemned the launch as a disguised ballistic missile test that violates UN resolutions triggered by Pyongyang’s two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

The first stage has been placed in position at the North’s Sohae satellite launch station, a South Korean government source told Yonhap news agency.

The source said it was expected to take three or four days for North Korea to erect all three stages. There were also unconfirmed reports Monday, citing defence officials, that the South Korean military had detected signs that the North might be preparing live-fire artillery drills at bases near the disputed western sea border.

Japan cancelled scheduled diplomatic talks with North Korea after the rocket launch announcement and has reportedly issued orders to shoot down the carrier if it strays into Japanese territory. North Korea insists it is a purely “peaceful, scientific” mission aimed at placing a polar-orbiting earth observation satellite in orbit.

In a notification to neighbouring countries, Pyongyang said the launch timing would be between 7:00am and midday (2200 GMT and 0300 GMT) on any day in the given window, Yonhap quoted a foreign ministry official as saying.

According to the notice, the first stage would fall into the Yellow Sea off the Korean peninsula’s west coast and the second would come down in the sea some 190 kilometres (120 miles) east of the Philippines.

The North’s last rocket launch, in April, ended in failure with the carrier flying for just over two minutes before breaking up and falling into the Yellow Sea.

South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy Lim Sung-Nam met with ambassadors from China, Russia and Japan in Seoul on Monday to discuss the planned launch and how to respond.

China, the North’s closest ally, has expressed “concern” at the launch plan, with the foreign ministry urging “relevant parties (to) act in a way that is more conducive to the stability of the Korean peninsula”.

Russia on Monday added its “regret” at Pyongyang’s announcement and noted that North Korea was obliged to abide by UN resolutions.

“We vehemently ask the North Korean government to reconsider the decision to launch the rocket,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

Meanwhile, Tokyo has begun deploying a surface-to-air missile defence system and is putting its armed forces on standby ahead of a planned North Korean missile launch this month, reports and officials said Monday. Public broadcaster NHK reported that a naval vessel carrying PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability-3) ballistic missiles left a western Japan naval base on Monday, headed for the country’s southern Okinawa island chain.

Defence Minister Satoshi Morimoto on Saturday ordered the military to prepare for the rocket launch, with a defence ministry spokesman telling AFP that “our ground, marine, and air forces are now preparing to deploy troops in Okinawa”, which the rocket may fly over.

Tokyo is also planning to deploy Aegis warships in neighbouring waters, the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun and other Japanese media reported Monday. Meanwhile, South Korea has postponed its third bid to put a satellite in orbit until next year, after a technical problem forced the cancellation of last week’s scheduled launch, an official said Monday.

“We have decided not to launch the rocket this month,” a science ministry official said.

Engineers are now conducting a “comprehensive” check of the rocket’s second stage that will take more than one month, the official said, declining to speculate on when a new attempt could be made.

Meanwhile, Germany on Monday summoned the North Korean ambassador to express concerns over Pyongyang's plan to launch a rocket later this month, the foreign ministry in Berlin said Monday. "North Korea's announcement that it would again carry out a rocket test is a worrying step backwards," the ministry said in a statement. "The planned rocket launch contravenes North Korea's international commitments and is a danger to peace and stability in the region," it added.

Berlin called on the North Korean authorities not to "block the way to de-escalation with provocative actions".

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed the "clear position" of the German government to the ambassador, the statement said.

North Korea announced Saturday that it would carry out its second long-range rocket launch this year between December 10 and 22.

Pyongyang insists it is a purely "peaceful, scientific" mission aimed at placing a polar-orbiting Earth observation satellite in orbit.

But several nations have lined up to criticise the launch, with the United States and South Korea denouncing what they termed a "highly provocative" act.

And Tokyo said it was postponing talks between senior Japanese and North Korean diplomats scheduled to take place in Beijing this week.