LONDON/SEOUL - North Korea has asked embassies in Pyongyang
that might wish to get staff out if there is a war to submit plans to it by
April 10, Britain said on Friday, as it upped the pressure as part of a war of
words that has set the Korean peninsula on edge.
Initial reports by
Russia's Foreign Ministry and China's Xinhua
news agency suggested that North
Korea had suggested that embassies should consider closing because of the risk
The request came amid a military buildup by the United
States in South Korea following the North's warnings that war was inevitable due
to UN sanctions imposed for a nuclear test and what it terms "hostile" US
troop drills with South Korea.
"We believe they have taken this step as
part of their continuing rhetoric that the US poses a threat to them,"
Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement after the reports from Russia and
A British diplomatic official, who spoke on condition of
anonymity, said that European Union embassies in Pyongyang had been summoned to
deliver their evacuation plans.
Under the Vienna Convention that governs
diplomatic missions, host governments are required to facilitate the exit of
embassy staff in the event of conflict.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said
earlier that North Korea had "proposed that the Russian side consider the
evacuation of employees in the increasingly tense situation", according to Denis
Samsonov, a spokesman for its embassy in Pyongyang.
A report from Chinese
state news agency Xinhua chimed with the Russian report, saying that Pyongyang
had asked embassies to consider evacuation if the situation
North Korea, ruled by 30-year old Kim Jong-un, has not
issued any statement indicating which of the conflicting reports was
true.Two rockets deployed
In a fusillade of statements issued over the
past month, North Korea has threatened to stage a nuclear strike on the United
States, something it lacks the capacity to do, according to most experts, and
has declared war on South Korea.
On Friday, South Korean media reported
that North Korea had placed two of its intermediate range missiles on mobile
launchers and hidden them on the east coast of the country in a move that could
threaten Japan or U.S. Pacific bases.
The report could not be confirmed.
But any such movement may be intended to demonstrate that the North, angry about
joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises as well as the sanctions for its
third nuclear test, is prepared to demonstrate its ability to mount an
Speculation centered on two kinds of missiles neither of which is
known to have been tested.
One was the so-called Musudan missile which
South Korea's Defence Ministry estimates has a range of up to 3,000 km (1,865
miles, the other is called the KN-08, which is believed to be an
inter-continental ballistic missile, which is again untested.
month-long verbal assaults from North Korea have set financial markets in South
Korea, Asia's fourth largest economy, on edge.
South Korean shares slid
on Friday, with foreign investors selling their biggest daily amount in nearly
20 months, hurt after aggressive easing from the Bank of Japan sent the yen
reeling, as well as by the tension over North Korea.
"In the past,
(markets) recovered quickly from the impact from any North Korea-related event,
but recent threats from North Korea are stronger and the impact may therefore
not disappear quickly," Vice Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho told a
While few observers believe that North Korea will launch a
military attack, alarm has grown over the intensification of the
The comments from the North could well continue until the end of
April when the joint US and South Korean military exercises are due to
"The rhetoric is off the charts," said Victor Cha, former director
for Asian affairs at the White House National Security Council and now senior
adviser at the Centre for Strategic Studies in Washington.
The youth of
Kim Jong-un has become an issue. He is the third member of his family to rule in
Pyongyang and took over in December 2011 after the death of his father Kim
Jong-il, who staged confrontations with South Korea and the United States
throughout his 17-year rule.
Counterbalancing that, the young Kim is
surrounded by generals and advisers in their 70s who have been through this
before, but there are concerns that he may view the risk of conflict as one
"We don't understand this new guy at all. And if the North
Koreans move to provoke the South, the South is going to retaliate in a way we
haven't seen before," said Victor Cha, a former director for Asian affairs at
the White House National Security Council.