Reports in a leading Japanese newspaper late last night also suggested that North Korea, led by 30 year old Kim Jong-un, had told diplomats it planned to launch a missile over Japan toward the Pacific Ocean today.
Pyongyang has shown no sign of preparing its 1.2m-strong army for war, indicating the threat could be aimed partly at bolstering Jong-un, who is the third in his family to lead the country.
The North, which threatens the United States and its “puppet”, South Korea, on a daily basis, is marking anniversaries this week that could be accompanied by strong statements or military displays.
US broadcasters said that US authorities had come to the conclusion that the North is due to launch a missile at any time, citing an unnamed US official.
The warning to foreigners in the South, reported by the KCNA news agency, said once war broke out “it will be an all-out war, a merciless, sacred, retaliatory war to be waged by (North Korea).
“It does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war,” the agency quoted the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee as saying.
“The committee informs all foreign institutions and enterprises and foreigners, including tourists...that they are requested to take measures for shelter and evacuation in advance for their safety.”
A US embassy official in Seoul said a directive issued last week saying there was no imminent threat to Americans in South Korea remained valid.
Stocks, which had fallen four per cent over the past four days, edged higher yesterday despite the warning, as the won currency moved little.