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North Korea

Diplomats stay put despite North Korean warning to leave

Staff at foreign embassies in Pyongyang appear to have decided to remain there, at least for now, after a stern warning from North Korea. Pyongyang says it cannot guarantee the safety of diplomats if a war breaks out.

Specifically, the North Korean authorities told foreign embassies that they could only vouch for their safety until this coming Wednesday, amid speculation that the country was preparing to carry out a missile test.

On Saturday, though, diplomats from a number of European countries with embassies in Pyongyang said they had no immediate plans to evacuate staff.

"The security of the German embassy and its exposure to danger are continually being valuated," a statement released by the German Foreign Ministry said. "For now, the embassy can continue working."

A ministry spokesman in Berlin later told the Reuters news agency that the European diplomats were in close contact with each other to coordinate their actions.

North Korea blocks access to industrial zone

A spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office seemed to play down Friday's warning.

"Our understanding is that the North Koreans were asking whether embassies are intending to leave, rather than advising them to leave," the spokeswoman said.

However, Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, issued a something of a warning of his own on Saturday. He expressed the “clear and unmistakable” expectation that North Korea would fulfil its duty “to reliably and continually guarantee the security and ability to work of the local diplomatic missions.”

Apart from Germany and Britain, Sweden, Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania have embassies in Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, there is growing speculation that North Korea could be about to conduct a missile test, with reports that it has moved two intermediate-range missiles to underground facilities near its eastern coast.

"The North is apparently intent on firing the missiles without prior warning," the Yonhap news agency quoted a senior South Korean government official as saying on Friday.

North Korea, which has been angered by the latest round of United Nations sanctions that followed its third nuclear test and by joint US-South Korean military exercises, has issued a series of military threats against Washington and Seoul over the past few days. Although it has never successfully tested an inter-continental ballistic missile, the US is taking the threats seriously.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced plans to step up security, particularly for its troops in the Pacific region, by sending ground-based missile interceptors to be deployed on the US territory of Guam.

pfd/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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