Park pushes vigilance as drill begins

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Park pushes vigilance as drill begins


President Park Geun-hye presides over a National Security Council meeting yesterday at the Blue House crisis management room on the first day of the 12-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the joint Korea-U.S. military exercise that runs through Aug. 30. [NEWSIS]

In a meeting in a bunker beneath the Blue House yesterday, President Park Geun-hye emphasized the importance of staying vigilant against potential threats from North Korea, as South Korea and the United States began a 12-day joint military exercise.

“In the wake of the 1968 North Korean attack on the Blue House, we have conducted the Ulchi exercises for 45 years, which are national crisis management drills,” Park said while presiding over a National Security Council meeting in the Blue House crisis management room, according to presidential spokeswoman Kim Haing.

Named Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the war games mobilize some 50,000 South Korean and 30,000 American soldiers, including some 3,000 sent from the U.S. and the Pacific region, and will last through Aug. 30.

The drills are intended to examine the joint forces’ capacity to counter attacks from Pyongyang in the event of war.

“As the old saying goes, ‘Even when peace is in place, a crisis will soon ensue if we forget about war.’ It is very important to have firm security readiness,” said the president.

Yesterday’s meeting, attended by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and other officials, was Park’s first such session since taking office in February.

The North Korean attack on the Blue House that Park mentioned refers to a failed plot by Pyongyang to raid the presidential mansion and kill military strongman Park Chung Hee, the incumbent president’s father.

Of the 31 special forces soldiers the North sent, 28 were killed by South Korean forces and two presumably fled back to the North. Kim Shin-jo, the sole captured survivor of the botched mission, is now a pastor who gives anti-Pyongyang lectures in the South. President Park was a junior in high school at the time of the attack.

Park’s remarks on the Ulchi exercises came amid the communist state’s unusually relaxed stance on the computer-aided exercise, in what many take as another sign of thawed inter-Korean relations.

In the past, Pyongyang has called the annual joint exercise a rehearsal for invasion and condemned the two allies for warmongering.

Last week, the two Koreas reached a breakthrough deal on resuming the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which had been shut down since Pyongyang abruptly withdrew its 53,000 workers from the facility in April.

Seoul and Pyongyang also agreed to arrange reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War for the Chuseok holiday next month. The last family reunion was held in October 2010.

“Last week, [we] agreed to normalize the Kaesong Industrial Complex 133 days after the shutdown with a guarantee that such a closure would not occur again and a promise to internationalize the complex,” said Park during a cabinet meeting that followed the NSC meeting.

“Looking back at past inter-Korean relations, trust often collapsed not because we did not have promises, but because promises were not kept. From now on, it is important that the two Koreas build trust by securing and keeping promises.”

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