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March 4, 2021

South Korea raises alert with North to ‘vital threat’

U.S, North Korean officials met secretly in March.

South Korea has raised its alert level to “vital threat” amid indications the North is preparing for a missile test, CNN informs.At least one ballistic missile with an estimated 3,000km (2,000-mile) range is fuelled and ready for launch, US and South Korean sources say.Pyongyang has been making bellicose threats against South Korea, Japan and US bases in the region. The threats follow tough new UN sanctions imposed on North Korea last month after its third nuclear test.

Separately, an initial investigation by the South into a major cyber attack last month that affected a number of banks and broadcasters has said the North is to blame. North Korea is believed to have completed preparations for a missile launch after it moved two Musudan missiles to its east coast, Yonhap news agency says.In anticipation, the South Korea-US Combined Forces have raised their alert level to Watchcon 2, to increase surveillance monitoring, Yonhap quoted a senior military official as saying.

Yonhap also reported that the South’s National Police Agency had raised its state of alert by one level from “attention” to “caution”.Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said his nation was on “high alert”, with anti-missile defences deployed in Tokyo as a precaution. A number of travel agencies in China have reported that tourist trips into North Korea have been suspended.

An official investigation by the South into last month’s cyber attack traced the malicious codes used to six computers in the North.North Koreans failed to report for work at the Kaesong complex on Tuesday, suspending one of the few points of co-operation with South Korea.Since the UN sanctions were imposed, Pyongyang has threatened to use nuclear weapons and has said it will restart a nuclear reactor. The North has also shut an emergency military hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Last week, it warned it would not be able to guarantee the safety of foreign embassy staff after 10 April, and that countries should begin evacuating their diplomatic staff. On the other hand CNN reports that U.S. and North Korean officials met secretly in New York in the days before North Korea’s latest round of threats and provocations, although nothing came of the meeting, according to a source familiar with the matter. The source described the meeting as part of regular back channel exchanges between the countries. Clifford Hart, the U.S. envoy for six-party talks aimed at North Korean denuclearization, met with North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Han Song-ryol, in mid March, according to the source. Hart repeated the Obama administration’s call for North Korea to avoid provocative actions and urged a return to diplomacy, and Han promised to communicate the message to Pyongyang, the source said.

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