North Korea Warns Foreign Embassies Of Risks

Mark Stone, on the South Korea border

The Foreign Office says it has no intention of evacuating its embassy in Pyongyang after North Korea warned foreign diplomats they may not be safe if war breaks out.

The North Korean government asked foreign embassies whether they were considering evacuating staff, saying it cannot guarantee their safety in the event of conflict from April 10.

Tensions in the region are high after reports that North Korea has now moved two missiles to its eastern coast and loaded them on mobile launchers.

The Foreign Office says it "has no immediate plans to withdraw our embassy" in Pyongyang, adding it condemned the "provocation" by the North Korean government.

Earlier, a spokesperson said: "The DPRK (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.

"We are considering next steps, including a change to our travel advice."

It was not immediately clear why the date of April 10 had been mentioned, but there has been speculation that Pyongyang might schedule a firing to coincide with the birthday of the country's late founder Kim Il-Sung in mid-April.

Russia intends to "clarify the situation" before making a decision on any possible evacuation, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported earlier in the day that two North Korean intermediate-range missiles had been moved by train to the country's eastern coast.

The move fuels fears of an imminent firing.

"It has been confirmed that North Korea, early this week, transported two Musudan mid-range missiles by train to the east coast and loaded them on vehicles equipped with launch pads," the agency said, quoting what it said was a top government official.

The White House said "it would not be surprised" if North Korea carried out another missile test.

Spokesman Jay Carney said: "We've obviously seen the reports that North Korea may be making preparations to launch a missile, and we're monitoring this situation closely.

"We would not be surprised to see them take such an action. We have seen them launch missiles in the past ... And it would fit their current pattern of bellicose, unhelpful and unconstructive rhetoric and actions.

"We urge them to stop with the provocations and to focus instead on meeting their international obligations and feeding their own people. They are only making themselves more and more isolated from the rest of the world."

The Musudan missile is a mid-range weapon, meaning it is capable of reaching South Korea and Japan and perhaps also the US territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean.

"The range is between 3,000 to 4,000km (1,864 to 2,485 miles). There are major US military forces in Guam and a fixed number of troops to deal with the Korean peninsula, so I think these facts can reduce the possible danger there," said Kim Min-seok, South Korea's Defence Ministry spokesman.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said daily reports from Pyongyang were "really alarming and troubling" and urged North Korea to ease tensions.

"Nuclear threat is not a game, it is very serious," he said, adding that any misjudgement or miscalculation could have "very serious implications".

Speaking to Sky News, a security adviser to the South Korean government said there is no doubt that North Korea's capability is concerning.

"The technological level of North Korean weapons has become much improved and better - especially their missile capability and their long-range artilleries," Kim Byungki said.

"It is more uncertain, it is less predictable, there are more ways for them to destabilise us and there are more ways for us to respond ... so it is more complex."

North Korea which, incensed at fresh UN sanctions and South Korea-US military drills, has issued a series of apocalyptic threats of nuclear war in recent weeks.

The Musudan, which is manoeuvrable on the back of a specially designed mobile launch pad, is untested and its accuracy is unknown. Most experts believe the North Koreans lack the technological ability to mount a nuclear warhead into its tip.

However, it can carry a significant load of conventional explosives which could cause considerable damage.

It is not clear whether military commanders in North Korea have been given orders to fire the weapon in anger or as a test.

Given the recent level of rhetoric delivered by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and the number of US and South Korean military assets that are now in the region, the missile would be shot down within minutes of any launch.

The concern is that this could then lead to an uncontrollable escalation in military action by both sides.