The Washington Post

N. Korea warns foreigners in the South should make plans to evacuate

— North Korea on Tuesday said all foreigners and foreign-run businesses in the South should draw up evacuation plans, the latest in a series of shrill warnings from Pyongyang about what it describes as likely armed conflict on the peninsula.

The North “does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war,” the country’s state-run news agency said in a statement attributed to the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, an arm of the ruling Workers’ Party.

The warning was dismissed as bluster by most security analysts. They say Pyongyang wants only to raise tensions and win political concessions from the South, not go to war with it. Officials in Seoul said they saw no signs in the North of irregular military activity or preparations for war, and a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said there was no evidence of an imminent threat to U.S. citizens in South Korea.

Still, the North’s warning underscored how the secretive police state is taking increasingly unfamiliar measures to portray itself as a threat. Within the past week, North Korea, under 30-year-old leader Kim Jong Un, has temporarily shuttered a joint industrial park, announced the restart of a nuclear reactor that generates weapons-grade plutonium and told diplomats in Pyongyang that their safety couldn’t be guaranteed from this Wednesday.

South Korean officials have also said the North could test-fire a midrange missile sometime this week.

Adm. Samuel Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, responds to questions from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) about North Korea at a the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Forces in Korea in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2014 and the Future Years Defense Program. (Sandi Moynihan/The Washington Post)

“I don’t take the [evacuation threat] seriously,” said Robert Kelly, an international relations specialist at Pusan National University, in the southeastern part of South Korea. “If the North really wanted a war with a chance of winning, they’d have to do a surprise attack — like Pearl Harbor — because the South Korean military is so advanced compared to theirs . . . . You don’t telegraph it weeks and weeks in advance.”

The North has characterized war as something it, too, wants to avoid — although its restraint has been tested by a recent round of U.N. sanctions and joint U.S.-South Korean military drills. If war does break out, the North said Tuesday, “it will be an all-out war, i.e., a merciless sacred retaliatory war.”

After the North issued its warning, Robert Koehler, an American who has lived in the South for 15 years, wrote on his popular blog, “It’s touching to know that North Korea has my well-being at heart.”

Koehler later said in an interview that he is accustomed to North Korea’s rhetoric and less alarmed by it than his family in the United States.

“It’s their attempt to try to get attention,” Koehler said. “It’s the same thing we’ve seen before.”

Chico Harlan covers personal economics as part of The Post's financial team.

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