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North Korea Advises Evacuation Of Embassies


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The cycle of threat and bluster continues in North Korea today. Foreign embassies in the capital of Pyongyang appear to be staying put so far, despite a warning yesterday to consider evacuating their staff. Now, this comes after North Korea limited access to its joint industrial zone with the South, restarted its nuclear plant, and repeated threats of nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea. NPR's Louisa Lim has been monitoring the situation; joins us now. Louisa, thanks for being with us.

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Morning, Scott.

SIMON: And does the reaction of foreign embassies in Pyongyang suggest that they're not taking the threats very seriously?

LIM: Well, it does to a certain extent. I mean, what has happened was that they were called in yesterday. They were summoned - all the diplomatic missions in Pyongyang - and the message they were given was that in the event of conflict, North Korea would be unable to guarantee their safety. And they were also asked to tell the North Korean authorities by next Wednesday - that is April the 10th - what kind of help they would need if they were to evacuate or relocate. Now, Russia has said it's studying this request seriously. But the British have said that they believe this is part of a campaign of continuing rhetoric and that North Korea is trying to insinuate the reason that they're asking them this is because the U.S. poses a threat to North Korea. So, the British have said they are going to stay put for the moment. So, so far, this looks like it's being seen as bluster.

SIMON: There's some kind of deadline on April 10th, nevertheless. What's the significance of that?

LIM: Well, no one knows exactly what the significance of April the 10th is, but interestingly there is a significant date in the North Korean calendar just days after that. That's April the 15th - nine days from now - and that's the anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. Now, historically, North Koreans do like to mark these anniversaries with a show of force. So, there's a lot of speculation we could see some kind of demonstration of North Korean power in the days leading up to that. Now at the moment, everyone's looking at the east coast of North Korea. The North Koreans have moved one or maybe two medium-range missiles there, according to the South Korean media. These are Musudan-2 missiles. They have a range of about 2,000 to 2,500 miles. And they're untested so far. And we simply don't know at this stage why they've been moved there; if this could be part of a drill or a test firing exercise or preparations for a targeted strike.

SIMON: And what's the reaction at the moment in South Korea, which would obviously be within range of missiles. And this is a country that's very sensitive to military maneuvers in the North.

LIM: Yes, well, South Korea is taking steps. I mean, they've deployed two destroyers, one to patrol the east coast and another to patrol the west coast. And both of those destroyers are equipped with the Aegis missile defense system. So, they could shoot down any hostile missiles. I mean, at the moment in Seoul, the mood is actually quite calm. I mean, they've lived next to North Korea saber-rattling for 60 years. So, they're used to threats and escalations.

SIMON: But we have seen some moves today inside the joint industrial zone. More South Korean companies are pulling their workers from that zone. Almost 100 South Koreans left that zone today. So, there were only 500 South Koreans inside that zone. Now, North Korea stopped access to the zone, so South Korean companies have not been able to send in supplies. And once their workers leave, no one else is allowed in. And we're hearing that four companies now have stopped operation out of the 120-something based there. So, this really, it's the last symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. So, if it is closed, it's a big blow.

NPR's Louisa Lim in Beijing. Thanks so much.

LIM: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.