Embassies staying put in North Korea despite tension
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 from next Wednesday – after declaring that conflict was inevitable amid joint US-South Korean military exercises due to last until the end of the month.
Whatever the atmosphere in Pyongyang, the rain-soaked South Korean capital, Seoul, was calm. Traffic moved normally through the city centre, busy with Saturday shoppers.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a government official as saying diplomats were disregarding the suggestion they might 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 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 had quoted the North’s Foreign Ministry as saying 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. A South Korean government official expressed bewilderment.
“It’s hard to define what is its real intention,” said the official, who asked not to be identified. “But it might have intensified these threats to strengthen the regime internally or to respond to the international community.”
The UN said its humanitarian workers remained active across North Korea. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, however, remained “deeply concerned” about tensions, heightened since the imposition of UN sanctions against the North for its third nuclear arms test last in February.
The appeal to diplomats followed news 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 dynasty 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.