UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned against small missteps that could lead to the situation on the Korean peninsula spiraling out of control. This came as North Korea advised foreigners to leave South Korea.
"The current level of tension is very dangerous," Ban said on Tuesday, referring to the current state of affairs between North and South Korea.
"A small incident caused by miscalculation or misjudgment may create an uncontrollable situation," he added. He was speaking in Rome following a visit with Pope Francis.
In recent days, North Korea has created the impression that a military conflict with the South is pending. On Tuesday, North Korea's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee issued a warning to South Korea's foreign residents urging them to leave amid escalating tensions on the peninsula.
"In the event of war, we don't want foreigners living in South Korea to get hurt," North Korea's KCNA news agency reported.
The warning followed a similar message issued last week, urging embassies in North Korea to send their employees to a safer area. Thus far, most foreign diplomats have remained in Pyongyang.
Allies on call
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been escalating since late March, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ended a ceasefire with Seoul - stemming from the 1950-1953 Korean War - and threatened attacks against it and the United States.
While some, including South Korea, initially dismissed the rhetoric as posturing, North Korea's persistence has worried some international leaders that it might carry out its threats, possibly with nuclear weapons.
The US has indicated it would stand by its allies should North Korea launch an attack.
"We have demonstrated to the people of the region, demonstrated to the leadership of North Korea, our ability and willingness to defend our nation, our people, our allies and our forward deployed forces," said Admiral Samuel Locklear, who heads the US Pacific Command, in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle again called on North Korea to tone down its rhetoric.
"This is a serious danger for stability not only in the region, but also for the international security structure," Westerwelle told reporters at a meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative in The Hague on Tuesday.
Westerwelle also issued a "clear message from the government of our country... that Japan can count on solidarity and other peaceful countries can count on that solidarity." Japan is one of the countries that took part in the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative meeting in The Hague.
Japan has also taken steps to protect itself. On Tuesday, its military deployed several PAC-3 missile interceptors around Tokyo.
Work at Kaesong stopped
Meanwhile, North Korean workers did not report to work at the Kaesong joint industrial zone on Tuesday.
The previous day, Pyongyang had said it would pull out its 53,000 workers at the complex, which is the last remaining major economic link between the rivals and a crucial hard currency source for the impoverished nation.
Pyongyang has been using the shared industrial zone as a pawn in its relations with the South as a way of increasing pressure on Seoul by directly affecting its workers.
South Koreans have been blocked from returning to Kaesong since last week, forcing 13 of the 123 South Korean firms operating in the complex to halt production.
mz/ccp (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)