Embassy staff stay, despite warning

2013-04-07 10:00

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North Korea has moved two missiles to east-coast location.

Staff at embassies in North Korea appeared to be remaining in place yesterday, despite an appeal by authorities in Pyongyang for diplomats to consider leaving because of heightened tension after weeks of bellicose exchanges.

North Korean authorities told diplomatic missions they could not guarantee their safety after Wednesday – declaring that conflict was inevitable amid joint US-South Korean military exercises, due to last until the end of the month.

A government official was quoted as saying that diplomats were disregarding the suggestion to leave the country.

“We don’t believe there’s any foreign mission about to leave Pyongyang,” the unidentified official was quoted as saying.

“Most foreign governments view the North Korean message as a way of ratcheting up tension on the Korean peninsula.”

North Korea has been angry since new UN sanctions were imposed on it following its third nuclear weapons test in February.

Its rage has apparently been compounded by joint US-South Korean military exercises that began on March 1.

China’s Xinhua news agency on Friday quoted the North’s Foreign Ministry as saying that the issue was no longer whether, but when, a war would break out.

Most countries saw the appeal to the missions as little more than strident rhetoric after weeks of threatening to launch a nuclear strike on the US and declarations of war against the South.

But Russia said it was “seriously studying” the request.

The UN said its humanitarian workers remained active across North Korea.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, however, remained “deeply concerned” about the tensions.

The appeal to diplomats followed reports in the South that North Korea, under its 30-year-old leader Kim Jong-un, had moved two medium-range missiles to a location on its east coast.

That prompted the White House to say that Washington would “not be surprised” if the North staged another missile test.

Kim Jong-un is the third member of his family to rule North Korea.

He took over in December 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, who staged confrontations with South Korea and the US throughout his 17-year rule.

North Korea has always condemned the exercises held by US forces and their South Korean allies.

But its comments have been especially vitriolic this year, as the US dispatched B-2 bombers from its home bases to stage mock runs.

A TV documentary, which was broadcast on Friday, quoted North Korean leader Kim as saying, during a provincial tour last month, that the country needed to “absolutely guarantee the quality of our artillery and shells to ensure a rapid pre-emptive attack on our enemies”.

But some commentators, examining the outcome of meetings in Pyongyang last week – of the ruling Workers’ Party and of the rubber-stamp legislature – concluded that Kim and his leadership were more concerned with economic than military issues.

North Korea has not shut down one symbol of joint cooperation, the Kaesong industrial zone just inside its border.

But last week it prevented South Koreans from entering the complex and about 100 of them who have since remained returned home yesterday, leaving a further 500 there.

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