5 Apr 2013

North Korea warning over embassy staff safety

The Foreign Office confirms it is “consulting international partners” after North Korea informed foreign embassies in Pyongyang it could not guarantee the safety of staff in the event of conflict.

The Foreign Office said it was “considering the next steps” for staff at its embassy, after North Korea’s government said it could not guarantee their safety after 10 April in the event of conflict.

The Foreign Office also confirmed to Channel 4 News that is it considering changing its travel advice for the region.

A spokesman said: “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has responsibilities under the Vienna Convention to protect diplomatic missions, and we believe they have taken this step as part of their continuing rhetoric that the US poses a threat to them.”

Yesterday the US was preparing to send a missile defence system to Guam to defend it from North Korea. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said North Korea presented a “real and clear danger”, with threatening behaviour that the US had to take seriously.

His words were echoed by Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday, who said: “North Korea does now have missile technology that is able to reach, as they put it, the whole of the United States,” he said.

“If they are able to reach the whole of the United States they can reach Europe too, they can reach us too. That is a real concern.”

The Russian embassy is also reported to be considering an evacuation.

Denis Samsonvov, spokesman for the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, said it was examining the request from North Korea. However, he said there were no outward signs of increased tenion within the capital itself, and that the Russian embassy was not planning an evacuation at this stage.

Warships deployed

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said its government has dispatched two Aegis destroyers, equipped with advanced radar systems and capable of shooting down missiles, to both its east and west coasts.

Though South Korea’s defence ministry declined to comment, military sources told Yonhap that North Korea was loaded two intermediate-range missiles onto mobile launchers and hidden them in an unidentified facility near the east coast.

The move is seen as a threat from North Korea to Japan or US bases on Guam.

Read more: North Korea - a beginner's guide

Yonhap cited a senior military official familiar with the matter as saying: “Early this week, the North has moved two Musudan missiles on the train and placed them on mobile launchers”.

However it is not clear what kind of missiles have been deployed. Speculation has centred 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.

Watch: Should we be scared of North Korea?

South Korea’s defence minister has said he does not believe the missile that was moved was the long-range KN-08.

North Korea has slowly and steadily improved its missile capabilities in recent years and US officials say its missiles may be capable of hitting outlying US territories and states, including Guam, Alaska and Hawaii.

Some private experts say even this view is alarmist.

According to officials there is no evidence that North Korea has tested the complex art of miniaturising a nuclear weapon to be placed on a long-range missile, a capability the United States, Russia, China and others achieved decades ago.

North Korea has been engaged in month-long war of words with the United States and South Korea in the wake of Washington-led sanctions imposed for its February nuclear test.

It has threatened to stage a nuclear strike on the United States, to attack bases on Guam and said a state of war exists on the Korean peninsula.