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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 257 (April 11, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

North Korea Desperately Deploys Various Tactics in Attempt to Heighten Tensions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is desperately employing dangerous and self-destructive ways of ratcheting up tensions on the Korean Peninsula with wild rhetoric and military moves. Pyongyang's threats now target foreigners living in both in South and North Korea, urging them to evacuate so they will not become victims of war.

   In another belligerent move, North Korea has finished preparations to launch one or two Musudan medium-range missiles that have been moved to an area on the east coast. There has been growing conjecture that the missile, carried on a mobile transporter, has a range of 3,000-4,000 kilometers and could be programmed to target U.S. bases in Guam.

   North Korea has issued a series of threats in recent weeks against the United States and South Korea -- including threats of a nuclear attack on the U.S.

   Tensions have been escalating on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang's near-daily threats of war, particularly after the North's Feb. 12 nuclear test, which earned the country fresh U.N. sanctions. Joint annual U.S.-South Korea military drills in March also contributed to the North's threats.

   Besides threatening to attack its enemies with nuclear weapons, Pyongyang nullified the Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War (1950-53), saying it will no longer honor non-aggression pacts signed with South Korea and more recently said it pulled its workers out of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

   Last week, Pyongyang began blocking South Korean workers and cargo from entering the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the border town of Kaesong jointly run with Seoul since December 2004. The North had previously halted movement to and from Kaesong on three occasions in March 2009 when Seoul and Washington were conducting military exercises.

   On April 8, Pyongyang announced it would temporarily suspend all inter-Korean business in industrial complex. As one of the three major inter-Korean projects, along with the cross-border railway construction and the Mount Kumgang tourist resort, the complex is seen as the last remaining legacy of the Sunshine Policy.

   Then on April 5, the North urged foreign embassies to evacuate their missions in Pyongyang, saying it cannot guarantee the safety of staff. Calling the latest briefing a part of the North's efforts to mount psychological pressure on South Korea and the U.S., a Seoul official said the North "tried to take advantage of the diplomatic channels through which it can diffuse its messages to the international arena in a swift fashion."

   There are a total of 24 foreign diplomatic missions in Pyongyang, including the Chinese and Russian embassies. There also are a handful of representative offices of international agencies in the capital.

   Russia and Britain confirmed they received a request on April 5 from the North for their embassy staff to evacuate, but that they had no immediate plans to withdraw.

   An official at Russia's embassy in Pyongyang, Denis Samsonov, said the situation in North Korea's capital is calm. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia is consulting about the warnings with China, the U.S. and other members of the stalled six-party talks on North Korea.

   Britain also said North Korea warned embassies and international organizations in the country it cannot guarantee their safety after April 10 in the "event of a conflict."

   Despite North Korea's recent warning to foreign diplomatic missions to leave Pyongyang, no embassy has yet to make a move out of the communist state, Seoul officials said on April 6.

   "We don't believe there's any foreign mission about to leave Pyongyang," one South Korean government official said. "Most foreign governments view the North Korean message as a way of ratcheting up tension on the Korean Peninsula."

   According to media reports on April 5, North Korea's foreign ministry asked foreign embassies based in Pyongyang to leave, saying a war could break out soon and the safety of foreigners cannot be guaranteed. The reports were later confirmed by South Korea and the U.S.

   South Korean officials said they were trying to analyze specific details and intentions of North Korea's message and added that Seoul wanted to handle the situation in a calm manner.

   Officials said they believed it was part of North Korea's ongoing propaganda campaign. One government official said, "This appears to be a propaganda war to dump responsibility for the instability of the peninsula on the U.S. and South Korea"

   Another noted that the North Korean move is consistent with its pattern of blaming outside aggressors for its weapons of mass destruction program.

   "This looks to be their strategy to deliver the message that, 'We're developing nuclear weapons because the Americans are putting pressure on us,'" the official said.

   Earlier, the U.S. State Department confirmed media reports that the North Korean government had passed its warning to the foreign diplomatic missions in its capital.

   Germany and Sweden said they had no plans, either, to evacuate diplomats from the communist country at present. Berlin said it is looking into safety issues with other countries with diplomatic missions in Pyongyang.

   Indonesia said it is reviewing the option of pulling out its diplomats following the North's warning, although it too has no plan to do so at the moment. Jakarta has 30 diplomats and their families stationed in North Korea.

   South Korea's government, meanwhile, said that it has informed foreign diplomatic missions in Seoul that there are no signs the North would launch an attack, so there is no need to be overly concerned about the safety of its citizens in the country.

   Reflecting this, the U.S. Embassy sent a message to U.S. citizens in South Korea reiterating that there was no specific information to suggest an imminent threat from the North. "So the goal there was to be calming, obviously," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, briefing reporters.

   Despite the North's confrontational move, the United States said on April 5 it has no plans yet to take extraordinary steps with regard to Americans in the communist nation.

   The U.S. has no embassy or consulate in North Korea since they have no diplomatic ties with the nation. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang serves as interim protecting power for the U.S. and provides basic consular services to American citizens.

   "We have been in touch with the Swedes, our protecting power in the DPRK (North Korea), because obviously if they were to change their status, we would have to inform American citizens in the DPRK," she said. "At this point, we have no reason to believe that they will make any changes."

   She said she has no exact number of U.S. citizens living in the North, adding the majority of Americans there are nongovernmental organization workers and occasional tourists. One Korean-American man in his 40s has been detained by North Korean security authorities for months.

   With Pyongyang's intentions unclear, South Korea said it is trying to figure out whether it is bluffing or legitimately asking foreign embassies to evacuate their staff.

   Just two days after warning foreign diplomatic missions to leave Pyongyang, North Korea on April 7 briefed foreign officials on the developments on the Korean Peninsula, but did not reiterate the warning to evacuate, a senior official at Seoul's foreign ministry said on April 8.

   The official said Pyongyang's call for withdrawal was not mentioned during the April 7 meeting. No embassies have yet to make a move out of the country.

   "We've learned that North Korea's key military official Kim Yong-chol called diplomats and military attaches working for the foreign diplomatic missions in Pyongyang on April 7, and briefed officials about the threats from South Korea and the United States making the situation on the Korean Peninsula grave," said the official, adding that the communist country claimed the annual joint military drills posed a threat to their safety.

   "Nobody at the embassies stationed in the North said General Kim told them to leave the country according to our confirmation via diplomatic channels," the Seoul official said, adding not all diplomats called by the communist country participated in the meeting.

   As the North's hard-line general, Kim heads the Army's Reconnaissance General Bureau suspected of being involved in a series of provocations against the South.

   "Kim did not also reportedly mention anything about its additional nuclear test," said the Seoul official. "We are closely but calmly watching the developments and moves in the North."

   But on April 9, North Korea called on foreigners living in South Korea to devise evacuation plans, further escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

   North Korea's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) said in a statement monitored in Seoul that foreign nationals should find out in advance where they can take shelter as well as examine evacuation plans to leave the country. The committee, an organ of the ruling Workers' Party that oversees inter-Korean affairs, said the North does not want to see foreigners in the South hurt in case of war.

   "The committee informs all foreign institutions and enterprises and foreigners including tourists in Seoul and all other parts of South Korea that they are requested to take measures for shelter and evacuation in advance for their safety," the KAPPC's English dispatch said. There are some 1.4 million foreigners in South Korea.

   "The United States and the South Korean puppet warmongers are now watching for a chance to start war against the DPRK after massively introducing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear war hardware into south Korea," it said.

   The statement, read by the organization's spokesman, warned that if conflict breaks out, the North will conduct an all out "merciless sacred retaliatory war." The official added the Korean Peninsula is on the brink of a thermonuclear war and current developments can pose grave challenges for the whole of the Asia-Pacific region.

   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.

   North Korea observers in Seoul said the latest rhetoric is part of an ongoing effort by the North to ratchet up tensions on the peninsula.

   "Fueling tension has been a trademark tactic employed for decades by the North to deal with outside pressure against its bad behavior and win concessions," said a government official, who declined to be identified.

   Other observers in Seoul speculated that pushing up tensions may be timed with the potential launch of the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile.