Friday, September 24, 2021

North Korea lashes out as South and US begin exercises

This year, Seoul is believed to have urged the US to scale down the size of the drills, to avoid ruffling feathers in Pyongyang.

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South Korea and the US have gone ahead with their four-day military training exercise despite warnings from North Korea.

The two allies’ summer exercises are scheduled for Aug 16 to 26 and this week’s drills are focusing on contingency planning, Yonhap News Agency reports.

South Korea and the US usually conduct joint military exercises each year in spring and summer.

This year, Seoul is believed to have urged the US to scale down the size of the drills, to avoid ruffling feathers in North Korea.

Pyongyang is warning that the exercises will negatively affect inter-Korean relations and that it will strengthen its defences against the military threat from the US.

The US, South Korea and Japan are on the alert for any provocative action from the North, such as testing ballistic missiles while the exercises are going on.

“I would like to express my deep regret at the perfidious behaviour of the South Korean authorities,” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong said in a statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

“Whatever the scale and mode, the joint military exercises are of an aggressive nature as they are a war rehearsal and preliminary nuclear war exercise.”

In June 2020, Pyongyang blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in the border city of Kaesong after shutting down all lines of communication with Seoul, in retaliation for defectors releasing balloons containing leaflets critical of the North.

On July 27, Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In agreed to reconnect communications between the two countries to mark the 68th anniversary of the signing of the ceasefire that suspended the open warfare of the 1950-1953 Korean War. As there was no peace treaty, the North and South are still technically at war.

Since the reconnection, Seoul and Pyongyang have been holding phone conversations every mid-morning and late afternoon, as they did before the lines were disconnected.

But South Korea’s unification ministry and defence ministry said on Tuesday that these regular calls were now not being answered by the North.

It is not clear whether the military drills are the reason for this, although Yo Jong’s statement continued: “As long as the US forces stay in South Korea, the root cause for the periodic aggravation of the situation on the Korean peninsula will never vanish.”

Negotiations between the US and North Korea on denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and lifting of sanctions have been stalled for around two years.

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