Undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 24, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea – STR/KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

Britain has closed its embassy in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and ordered its staff to leave the country.

The surprise closure is linked to coronavirus-related restrictions in place since earlier this year, which the Foreign Office said had left it unable to “rotate our staff and sustain the operation of the Embassy”. 

It follows a similar evacuation of a number of other diplomats and foreign residents from the North Korean capital in March.

A number of sources told the US news website NK News on Wednesday that the British diplomats left North Korea by land, crossing the DPRK’s border with China earlier on Wednesday. Flights out of the country remain grounded.

Hundreds of foreign residents remain in Pyongyang, including diplomats from the Swedish and Russian embassies and a small number of aid workers, though absent representatives from Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy.

There are currently no British residents in the country.

Resident diplomats had previously raised their concerns about the severity of the DPRK authorities’ coronavirus-prevention rules, which saw the country close its borders and place them under effective house arrest for over a month earlier in the year.

At the height of the restrictions, a request from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to fly a chartered aircraft from Britain to the country for support and evacuation purposes was rejected by the North Korean government.

Lockdown measures in the country have reportedly been relaxed in recent weeks.

However, the Russian state-run outlet TASS reported on Wednesday that the flag at the British embassy in Pyongyang had been taken down and a convoy of diplomatic vehicles had been seen departing.

Earlier this month North Korea had said it has no cases of the coronavirus, but the country had reinforced border checks and anti-epidemic measures.

An FCO spokesperson said: “The UK has temporarily closed its embassy in Pyongyang and our staff have departed the country. This decision has been made because the DPRK restrictions on entry to the country have made it impossible to rotate our staff and sustain the operation of the Embassy. 

“We maintain diplomatic relations with the DPRK and will seek to re-establish our presence in Pyongyang as soon as we are able to return to smooth Embassy operations. Colin Crooks remains our Ambassador to the DPRK”.

“We have advised against all but essential travel to North Korea since August 2017.”

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