The Korean Peninsula was headed for "thermonuclear war" and foreigners should consider leaving South Korea, Pyongyang said yesterday. The United Nations chief warned of a potentially "uncontrollable" situation.
Greeted largely with indifference, yesterday's advice from the North follows a similar warning last week to embassies in Pyongyang - to consider evacuating by April 10 as war may break out.
"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to a thermonuclear war," the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee said in a statement carried yesterday by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
Saying it did not want to see foreigners in South Korea "fall victim", the statement urged all foreign institutions, enterprises and tourists "to take measures for shelter and evacuation".
The committee blamed the heightened war risk on the "warmongering US" and its South Korean "puppets" who were intent on invasion.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of US Pacific Command, testifying before the US Senate armed services committee yesterday, was asked if he supported knocking out any missile fired by North Korea.
He told senators: "I would not recommend that." But he would, he said, "certainly recommend" intercepting an incoming missile "if it was in defence of our allies" or the United States.
The "thermonuclear war" threat has been wielded several times in recent months - most recently on March 7 - despite expert opinion that North Korea is nowhere near developing such an advanced nuclear device.
"It is our current assessment that there is no immediate risk to British nationals in South Korea," a British embassy spokesman said, echoing statements by the US, French and other missions.
Last week's warning to embassies in Pyongyang was also largely dismissed as empty rhetoric, with most governments making it clear they had no plans to withdraw personnel.
The South Korean stock market closed slightly up, before the KCNA statement was published.
The Korean Peninsula has been locked in a cycle of escalating military tension since the North's third nuclear test in February, which drew toughened UN sanctions. Pyongyang's bellicose rhetoric has reached fever pitch in recent weeks, with near-daily threats of attacks on US military bases and South Korea in response to continuing South Korean-US military exercises.
The Yonhap news agency yesterday cited South Korean intelligence as saying the North had completed preparations for an expected missile test-launch - possibly to coincide with April 15 celebrations for the birthday of its late founder Kim Il-sung.
Japan said it had deployed Patriot missiles in Tokyo as a pre-emptive defence measure.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he had spoken to the Chinese leadership to try to calm tensions, and would discuss the issue with US President Barack Obama.