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North Korean soldiers look along the border at the southern neighbours.

North Korean soldiers look along the border at the southern neighbours.

SEOUL – North Korea intensified threats of an imminent conflict against the United States and the South today, warning foreigners to evacuate South Korea to avoid being dragged into a “merciless, sacred, retaliatory war”.

The North’s latest antagonistic message belied an atmosphere free of anxiety in the South Korean capital, where the city centre was bustling with traffic and offices operated normally.

Pyongyang has shown no sign of preparing its 1.2 million-strong army for war, indicating the threat could be partly intended to bolster Kim Jong-un, 30, the third in his family to lead the reclusive country.

None of the embassies in Seoul appeared to have issued any directives to their nationals after the warning and airlines reported no changes in their schedules. Schools catering to foreign pupils worked without interruption.

The warning, read out on North Korea’s state television in a bulletin that interrupted normal programming, was the latest threat in weeks of high tension following UN sanctions slapped on Pyongyang for its latest nuclear arms test.

It followed the North’s suspension of activity at the Kaesong joint industrial park just inside North Korea, all but closing down the last remnant of cooperation between the neighbours. North Korean workers failed to turn up today.

North Korea had said South Korea was trying to turn the Kaesong complex into a “hotbed of war”.

The warning to foreigners, reported by the KCNA news agency said once war broke out “it will be an all-out war, a merciless, sacred, retaliatory war to be waged by (North Korea).

“It does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war,” the agency quoted the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee as saying.

“The committee informs all foreign institutions and enterprises and foreigners, including tourists … that they are requested to take measures for shelter and evacuation in advance for their safety.”

Last week, North Korean authorities advised embassies in Pyongyang to consider pulling out in case of war, though none appeared to have taken any such action. (Reuters)

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