South Korea has raised its surveillance of North Korean military activity by a level, after Pyongyang moved at least one missile to its east coast. Seoul has said that the North may be preparing for a missile launch.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se told parliament on Wednesday that another North Korean missile launch could take place "anytime from now on" and warned Pyongyang that such a move could trigger a new round of UN sanctions.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of US forces in the Pacific, said on Tuesday that the Pentagon believed the North had moved an unspecified number of Musudan missiles to its east coast. Musudan missiles are believed to have a range of roughly 3,000-3,500 kilometers (1,865-2,175 miles).
The South Korea-US Combined Forces Command raised its "Watchcon status" from 3 to 2 on Wednesday, in order to increase monitoring of the North and beef up intelligence personnel, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing a senior military official.
The United States has moved a missile defense system to its Pacific territory of Guam as a precautionary measure to intercept North Korean missiles if necessary. Admiral Locklear said that the Musudan missiles could potentially put Guam at risk.
On Tuesday, Locklear told the US Congress that he favored shooting down a North Korean missile only if it threatened US territory or Washington's regional allies.
Seoul lobbies for diplomatic pressure
Meanwhile, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun told parliament in Seoul on Wednesday that he had reached out to Beijing and Moscow, calling on the two UN Security Council members to help rein in Pyongyang's increasingly bellicose behavior.
"Through close coordination with China and Russia, the Korean government has been continuing to make efforts to persuade North Korea to change its attitude," Yun said.
China, for its part, has told tourist agencies to halt trips from the northeastern city of Dandong into North Korea, according to reports by Reuters news agency and the Associated Press.
On Tuesday, North Korea had warned foreigners to leave South Korea, saying the peninsula was heading toward "thermo-nuclear war." Last Friday, the North had asked foreign embassies in Pyongyang whether they intended to evacuate the country.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have reached a fever pitch, since North Korea launched a missile into orbit last December and tested a third nuclear device in February. The UN responded by imposing tightened sanctions. Pyongyang subsequently said it had torn up a decades-old cease fire agreement with South Korea and has made repeated threats of war since then.
slk/kms (AFP, Reuters)