N Korea warns South, US over military drills

January 17, 2014 - 7:12:17 am

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects the Korean People’s Army Unit 534 base in Pyongyang.

SEOUL:  North Korea has demanded that South Korea and the United States halt military drills due in February and March, saying they were a direct provocation, a statement that suggested a re-run of a sharp escalation in tension last year.

In 2013, North Korea said it would retaliate against any hostile moves by striking at the United States, Japan and South Korea, triggering a military buildup on the Korean peninsula and months of fiery rhetoric.

The reclusive North has regularly denounced annual drills such as “‘Key Resolve” and “Ulchi-Freedom-Guardian” staged by South Korea and United States as a prelude to invasion.

“We sternly warn the US and the South Korean authorities to stop the dangerous military exercises which may push the situation on the peninsula and the north-south ties to a catastrophe,” the North’s KCNA state news quoted a body in charge of efforts to promote Korean unification as saying.

Similar bellicose rhetoric from the North set South Korea, the United States and Japan on edge a year ago. As a result, Washington flew Stealth bomber missions over South Korea and strengthened its military presence in the South.

Reacting to the latest warning from Pyongyang, South Korea’s Defence Ministry insisted the exercises would go ahead as scheduled. South Korea said the drills were going ahead as planned and despite the threat, North Korea’s military has showed no sign of unusual activities.

“If North Korea actually commits military aggression at the excuse of what is a normal exercise we conduct as preparation for emergency, our military will mercilessly and decisively punish them,” Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said.

Kim also said North Korea would be better off taking “positive steps” towards addressing global concerns over its nuclear weapons programme than lecturing the South on its military drills.

North and South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 civil conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.

China, North Korea’s only remaining real ally and which has been alarmed by what it sees as provocations by both sides, called for restraint.

“All sides have a responsibility to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and this accords with all sides’ interests,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

“The overall situation on the Korean peninsula at present is quite fragile. We hope all sides can exercise restraint and not take steps to rile each other.”

Analysts say the North cannot risk igniting a conventional military conflict it would almost certainly lose. North Korea watchers believe the isolated country could instead launch another long-range rocket or push ahead with a nuclear test. It has conducted three nuclear tests, the last one in February last year.

Last year’s joint exercises were held in the wake of North Korea’s third and largest nuclear test, and prompted months of escalated military tensions that saw Pyongyang issue apocalyptic threats of nuclear strikes against the South and the United States.

Agencies

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