North Korea has completed preparations for a mid-range missile launch tomorrow from its east coast, officials in Seoul have revealed just hours after foreigners living in South Korea were warned to quit the country.
The worrying warning came as speculation heightened that North Korea is planning to pull its ambassador out of the UK after a shipping container was pictured outside the London embassy.
Boxes were seen being loaded onto a large lorry parked outside the pariah state’s embassy – an ordinary home in Ealing, west London.
Seoul revealed today that foreign nationals in South Korea were told by the North to evacuate in case of a “merciless” war.
“We do not wish harm on foreigners in South Korea should there be a war,” said the KCNA news agency, citing its Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.
The remarks come as the communist country has repeatedly said it will turn Seoul and Washington into a “sea of fire” and launch pre-emptive nuclear attacks against its enemies.
South Korean forces have been on high alert for an imminent missile launch by the communist nation, which was seen moving two Musudan missiles to its east coast last week and mounting them on mobile launchers.
Speculation had been building that North Korea could carry out a missile test as early as this week after dictator Kim Jong-un warned he could not “guarantee the safety of foreigners” after April 10.
Japan today deployed missile-defense systems at three sites around Tokyo ahead of the possible missile launch, officials confirmed.
Japan’s defense minister has also reportedly put destroyers with missile interception systems on alert in the Sea of Japan.
“As North Korea keeps making provocative comments, Japan, co-operating with relevant countries, will do what we have to do,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said today.
“The government is making utmost efforts to protect our people’s lives and ensure their safety,” he added.
Japan’s armed forces are authorised to shoot down any North Korean missile headed towards its territory, a defence ministry spokesman said.
“We are doing all we can to protect the safety of our nation,” chief Cabinet spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, though he and Ministry of Defense officials refused to confirm reports of a naval alert, saying they do not want to “show their cards” to North Korea.
Tensions have escalated further after North Korean authorities told embassies in Pyongyang they could not guarantee their safety from Wednesday – after saying conflict was inevitable amid joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises due to last until the end of the month.
However, no diplomats appear to have left the North Korean capital, despite a North Korean general reprotedly warning diplomats at the weekend that the situation remained “grave”.
Earlier today, North Korean labourers failed to turn up for work at a factory complex operated with South Korea, effectively shutting down the last major symbol of cooperation between the hostile neighbours.
Soaring tensions on the peninsula have been fuelled by North Korean anger over the imposition of U.N. sanctions after its last nuclear arms test in February, creating one of the worst crises since the end of the Korean War in 1953.