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Embassies keep calm amid false evacuation warnings

May 31, 2023 - 17:58 By Choi Si-young
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks at a press conference at the city hall on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Air raid sirens and text message warnings sent by South Korean authorities Wednesday morning after North Korea launched what it claimed was a satellite seem not to have disrupted the daily lives of foreign national residents as much as those of South Korean nationals, according to several foreign embassies in Seoul on Wednesday.

Residents in the country’s capital received Korean-language warnings from the city government telling people to prepare for evacuation without further details at 6:41 a.m., 12 minutes after Pyongyang launched the rocket southward. The Interior Ministry retracted the alerts at 7:03 a.m., saying they were sent in error.

The Seoul mayor, who later in the day admitted the city government had overreacted, stressed it was a judgment call, saying officials need wider discretion for the kind of emergency prompted by the North’s launch.

The Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul said it had asked the Korean government for more information about the latest alarms. The embassy did not specify which government bodies it had reached out to for additional details. The alerts, however, came as “no surprise,” according to the embassy.

“The embassy is fully aware that the neighboring country is a dangerous dictatorship which for the last several years has been increasing nuclear and missile threats,” it said in a statement, referring to North Korea -- a country that is still technically at war with South Korea, as they have yet to formalize a peace treaty ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

A Ukrainian national living in Seoul had “inquired about the seriousness of the situation,” the embassy added, saying it had received only one such message.

The Georgian, Pakistani and Mongolian Embassies confirmed that no contact was made by their respective nationals, three diplomatic sources familiar with the matter said.

“So far, no Georgian national has contacted the embassy for further information,” one source said. The other source, who confirmed that there was no outreach from Mongolians, described Wednesday’s alerts as nothing more than routine, saying warnings prompted by North Korea are not something new in this country.

But the Indonesian Embassy in Seoul said several Indonesians had called the embassy’s hotline asking for the latest developments.

Meanwhile, the Singaporean Embassy in Seoul immediately issued a notice advising Singaporeans to wait for instructions from the Korean government.

“We advise Singaporeans in the ROK to remain calm and follow the orders of the authorities,” it said in a statement posted on Instagram, referring to the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name, and asking them to register with the Singaporean Foreign Ministry in case they need help. Updates will be provided to those affected by the evacuation warnings, it added without elaborating.