Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un uses a pair of binoculars to look at the South Korea from an observation post on the Jangjae islet. Photo by AP
Text size

North Korea told foreign embassies in the country to consider evacuating their staffs if tensions flare with South Korea and the United States, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported diplomatic sources as saying Friday.

The British Foreign office confirmed its embassy in North Korea had been warned by the government.

“We received a communication from North Korea saying they would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies and international organizations in the event of conflict after April 10,” a Foreign Office spokesman told the German Press Agency. “But there was no request for us to evacuate.”

Denis Samsonov, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, told Reuters by phone that North Korea asked Russia on Friday to consider evacuating staff from its embassy because of increasing tension on the Korean peninsula.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry representative “proposed that the Russian side consider the issue of the evacuation of employees in connection with the increasingly tense situation,” he said.

Samsonov said Russia was examining the request but was not planning an evacuation at this stage, and there were no outward signs of increased tension in the North Korean capital itself. He said other foreign embassies had received similar requests.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Moscow was talking to other states about the issue, according to Russian news agencies.

“The proposal was made to the embassies in Pyongyang, and we are trying to clarify the situation,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying during a visit to Uzbekistan. “We are in close contact with our Chinese partners as well as the Americans, the South Koreans and the Japanese.”

In a month long war of words with the U.S. and South Korea, Pyongyang has said nuclear conflict could break out on the Korean Peninsula at any time, prompting the United States to move military assets into the region.

Meanwhile, the South Korean navy on Friday dispatched two destroyers to watch for a possible North Korean missile launch, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency reported.

The report quoted a senior navy official as saying the 7,600-ton Aegis destroyers – which are equipped with SPY-1 radar that allows them to track hundreds of objects at a time from up to 1,000 kilometers away – would monitor both sides of the peninsula.  

“If the North fires off a missile, we will trace its trajectory,” he was quoted as saying.

North Korea moved a KN-08 missile to its east coast Thursday, according to several media reports.

The missile's range was thought to reach “a considerable distance,” including Japan, South Korea and U.S. military bases on the Pacific Island of Guam, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin was quoted as telling parliament by several news reports.

It could not reach the U.S. mainland as threatened by Pyongyang, he said, but “could be aimed at test-firing or military drills.”

Washington was taking “all necessary precautions,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday.

The Pentagon said it was moving batteries capable of intercepting ballistic missiles to Guam.

Also Friday, operations were halted at an industrial park jointly run by North and South Korea, to observe the North's Arbor Day public holiday, Yonhap said.

The 53,000 North Korean workers employed in the Kaesong complex 10 kilometers north of the border did not show up for work, the South's Unification Ministry and companies with operations in the zone were quoted as saying by Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency.

Pyongyang has barred traffic from South Korea into the park since Wednesday, only allowing workers to leave, amid heightened diplomatic tensions.

Operations were likely to be affected as parts and materials run low, a company manager with a factory in Kaesong was quoted as saying by the report. Companies were already sharing food supplies, he said.

Tensions have risen since Pyongyang's third nuclear test on February 12, which prompted fresh sanctions against it.

Communist North Korea has issued increasingly bellicose threats against South Korea and the United States, including of nuclear strikes.

It says the threats are a response to the sanctions and to military drills by the two military allies around the peninsula in March, which the North called a rehearsal for an invasion.

Pyongyang said Tuesday that it would restart a nuclear plant with the capacity to produce weapons-grade plutonium, after it shut down and partly demolished the facility in 2007 in return for promises of international aid.

The move was condemned by the European Union, the United Nations, the U.S., Russia and China, traditionally the isolated regime's strongest diplomatic ally.  The U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea in early March, seeking to curtail its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.