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North Korea urges embassy evacuations

North Korea has advised foreign diplomats to consider evacuating their embassies in Pyongyang in light of increasing tensions in the region, Russian and British diplomats said yesterday.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters traveling with him in Uzbekistan yesterday afternoon that Moscow was seeking more details about the North Korean statement before making a decision about whether to evacuate.

The British Foreign Office said its embassy “received a communication from the North Korean government this morning saying that the North Korean government would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies and international organizations in the country in the event of conflict from April 10.”

Lavrov said Russia was treating the statement from Pyongyang as a suggestion and not an order. Some observers in Moscow called yesterday’s evacuation advice an obvious propaganda ploy. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said North Korea has made the same proposal to other nations with diplomatic missions in Pyongyang.

The development comes at the end of a week of bellicose threats by the North Koreans against South Korea and the United States. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing intelligence sources in South Korea, reported yesterday that the North had moved intermediate-range rocket launchers to its eastern coast, putting Guam potentially within range of a strike, Reuters news service said.

Moscow is consulting with China, South Korea, the United States and Japan over the evacuation proposal, the Foreign Ministry said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington that the United States plans to remain prudent in the face of “an unpredictable regime and an unpredictable situation.”

“This is just an escalating series of rhetorical statements, and the question is, to what end?” she said.

The United States, which does not have an embassy in North Korea, is represented in the country by Sweden.

While urging all sides to refrain from escalation, Russia – which shares a 10-mile border with North Korea – has been particularly concerned that North Korea not attempt a first-strike nuclear attack, triggering inevitable retaliation. Some Russian analysts have suggested that North Korea has no intention of actually going to war but warn that as rhetoric continues to escalate, a conflict could ignite accidentally.

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