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North Korea tells European countries it cannot guarantee embassy safety

European countries have been told to consider withdrawing personnel from Pyongyang if the tension there escalates further.

A South Korean security guard stands in front of the gateways to the North Korean city of Kaesong, which the North has blocked off to access from the south.
A South Korean security guard stands in front of the gateways to the North Korean city of Kaesong, which the North has blocked off to access from the south.
Image: Ahn Young-joon/AP

NORTH KOREA has told several European countries it cannot assure the safety of their embassies in Pyongyang after next Wednesday – urging Britain, Russia and other European nations to evacuate their diplomatic staff amid soaring nuclear tensions.

Several European nations reported receiving a letter suggesting they pull out of Pyongyang, as an increasingly bellicose North Korea moved two mid-range missiles to its east coast.

“Their communication said that from April 10, the North Korean government would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies and international organisations in the country in the event of conflict,” a spokeswoman for Britain’s Foreign Office said.

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

Britain was considering its next steps, she said, while reminding North Korea of its responsibilities under the Vienna Convention to protect diplomatic missions.

Russia, which has relatively close ties with North Korea, also received the missive. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was in close contact with its partners including China over the suggestion..

“The suggestion was made to all embassies in Pyongyang and we are trying to clarify the situation,” Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying on a visit to Uzbekistan.

“We are in close contact with our Chinese partners as well as the Americans”, and all participants in the frozen six-party talks process seeking peace on the peninsula, he added.

He said there were “many factors” that needed clarification.

The spokesman of the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, Denis Samsonov, told Russian news agencies that a representative of the North Korean foreign ministry “suggested that the Russian side examine the question of evacuating the employees of the Russian embassy.”

He said the mission had taken note of the information and was working normally. “We are currently in the process of taking the decision,” said Samsonov, adding that the current situation in Pyongyang was “absolutely peaceful”.

Situation ‘not developing in the way we would like’

A Russian foreign ministry source was quoted as saying by the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies that the security of Russian citizens was the priority in the taking of any decision.

“Unfortunately, the situation [on the Korean peninsula] is not developing in the way that we would like. For us the security of our citizens is the priority,” said the unnamed source.

In Sofia, a foreign ministry spokesman said North Korea had sent letters to Bulgaria and other EU countries telling them to consider pulling their diplomatic staff from Pyongyang for security reasons.

“Yes, we – along with other EU member states – have received such a letter signed by a deputy foreign minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Dimitar Yaprakov told AFP.

He said all foreign ambassadors had been summoned by Pyongyang’s foreign ministry “telling them that it was ready to assist them if they wanted to evacuate their missions.”

“The chiefs of EU missions to Pyongyang are meeting tomorrow there to discuss a common position and common action,” he added.

The Czech foreign ministry also confirmed receiving the statement.

“I can confirm the information,” spokesman Karel Srol told AFP in Prague.

“Each Czech embassy has a detailed plan of what to do in a crisis. If the situation required such steps, they would be taken,” Srol said, confirming that the Czech embassy in Pyongyang has four employees.

Ireland does not have an embassy in Pyongyang; its embassy in South Korea is also accredited to the North, while the North Korean embassy in London is also accredited to Ireland.

Russia on Thursday made its harshest criticism yet of North Korea in the current crisis, describing Pyongyang’s actions as “categorically unacceptable”.

Moscow retains relatively close ties with North Korea which go back to the Soviet Union when Soviet forces occupied the northern part of the Korean peninsula at the end of World War II, leading to the creation of a pro-Moscow communist North Korean state.

But Russia also shares a short border with North Korea south of Vladivostok in its Far Eastern region and has clearly been irritated by the country’s recent bellicose behaviour.

- © AFP, 2013

Read: North Korea moves missile to its coast, increasing tensions

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