North Korea on Tuesday encouraged foreigners to leave South Korea, the latest in its series of verbal escalations.
"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to a thermonuclear war due to the evermore undisguised hostile actions of the United States and the South Korean puppet warmongers," the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a North Korean agency, said in a statement quoted by The New York Times.
North Korea "does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war," the statement says.
On Tuesday Japan deployed Patriot missiles in Tokyo to defend against possible incoming North Korean rockets. Based on missile movements to the east coast of North Korea, it's apparent that the totalitarian state might be preparing a ballistic missile test.
"The government is making utmost efforts to protect our people's lives and ensure their safety," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday morning, AFP reports.
On Monday North Korea closed the Kaesong Industrial Region, which offers thousands of North Koreans employment with South Korean companies just north of the peninsula's demilitarized zone. The zone was inaugurated in 2003 as a step toward reconciliation between the countries.
Explaining the zone's closure, Kim Yang Gon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, said in a Monday statement that "confrontation maniacs are letting loose a string of invectives hurting the dignity of the DPRK, talking about 'source of money', 'detention' and 'hostages'."
The statement, posted to the website of the Korean Central News Agency, adds: "South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin revealed his sinister intention to introduce a special unit of the U.S. forces into the zone, vociferating about an operation for 'rescuing hostages'."
Throughout several months of diplomatic escalations, North Korea has alleged that its behavior is merely defensive. In March it accused the U.S. of planning to invade, as was done in Iraq. Last week, it alleged a U.S. plot to unleash a surprise nuclear attack.
On Friday North Korea encouraged foreign embassy employees in Pyongyang to evacuate the country, and offered logistical assistance until April 10.
Since the beginning of March, the American and South Korean militaries have been conducting two months of planned war games, which North Korean officials claim are actually preparations to invade.
It's generally considered unlikely that North Korea would launch a war. The Telegraph suggested on Saturday that leader Kim Jong Un's aunt, Kim Kyong Hu, and her husband hold true power in the country. Kim, director of the communist party's powerful Organization and Guidance Department, might be orchestrating the escalations to help shore up support for her nephew among the military, the paper reported.