North Korea tells foreigners in South to take safety measures

Tuesday, April 9, 2013 - 7:00am

North Korea issued its latest dispatch of ominous rhetoric on Tuesday, telling foreigners in South Korea they should take steps to secure shelter or evacuation to protect themselves in the event of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

The unnerving message, announced by state-run media, follows a warning from the North last week to diplomats in its capital city, Pyongyang, that if war were to break out, it would not be able to guarantee their safety.

In the statement Tuesday, the North's Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee reiterated accusations that Washington and Seoul were seeking to provoke a war with Pyongyang.

"Once a war is ignited on the peninsula, it will be an all-out war," the committee said, adding that North Korea doesn't want foreigners in South Korea to "fall victim" to a conflict.

But the British Embassy in Seoul appeared unimpressed by the North's most recent attempt to rattle nerves in the region.

"We are not commenting on the specifics of every piece of rhetoric from North Korea," said Colin Gray, head of media affairs at the embassy. "Our travel advice remains unchanged. At this moment, we see no immediate threat to British citizens in South Korea."

North Korea has unleashed a torrent of dramatic threats against the United States and South Korea in recent weeks, including a possible nuclear strike. But many analysts have cautioned that much of what it is saying is bluster, noting that it is believed to still be years away from developing an operational nuclear missile.

A more likely scenario, they say, is a localized provocative move.

Amid the fiery words from Pyongyang and annual military training exercises by U.S. and South Korean forces in the region, government officials in Washington and Seoul say they are taking the North Korean threat seriously.

On Tuesday, Japan said it had deployed missile-defense systems around Tokyo amid expectations that the North could carry out a missile test in the coming days.

The Japanese government is making "every possible effort to protect the Japanese people and ensure their safety," said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The souring situation on the Korean Peninsula was in evidence in the failure of more than 50,000 North Korean workers to show up for work Tuesday morning at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the manufacturing zone shared by the two Koreas that had operated without such an interruption for eight years.

The North had declared Monday that it would pull out its workers and temporarily suspend activities at the complex, which sits on its side of the heavily fortified border but houses the operations of more than 120 South Korean companies.

Analysts had expressed skepticism that Pyongyang would follow through on previous threats to shut down the complex, noting that it was an important source of hard currency to the regime of Kim Jong Un.

South Korean officials criticized the North's decision to halt activities at Kaesong, with President Park Geun-hye saying Tuesday that it risked damaging its credibility as a place to do business.

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CNN's K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Yoko Wakatsuki and Junko Ogura contributed to this report.
 

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