Joint military drills to go ahead as planned

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Joint military drills to go ahead as planned

South Korea turned down the North’s call to scrap scheduled joint military exercises with the United States, insisting that the annual war games are just for self-defense, not an act of war practice against Pyongyang.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification yesterday called a package of North Korea’s conciliatory proposals “absurd” and stated that the upcoming Seoul-Washington exercises will take place as scheduled.

“It is North Korea that has violated the inter-Korean agreement to suspend all insults and abusive verbal attacks,” Kim Eui-do, the Ministry of Unification spokesman, responded yesterday. “Two weeks ago, it called for an end to slander and insults against each other, but it has continued its own verbal attacks and threats against us since then.”

The ministry also emphasized that the annual drills with the U.S. military are not intended to be a threat toward North Korea’s national security.

“Our military exercises are for self-defense, and we have always notified neighboring countries, including North Korea, of our plans in advance according to international practices and agreements,” Kim said. “Everyone knows that North Korea has put the Korean Peninsula at risk of crisis with its continuous provocations in the Yellow Sea, its crossing of the Northern Limit Line, as well as its torpedoing of the naval ship Cheonan and the shelling on the Yeonpyeong Island.”

The reunions for war-separated families should be regarded as separate from all other issues, not traded as a bargaining chip for North Korea, the spokesman said.

“The family reunions are an urgent humanitarian issue that cannot be linked to any political or military situation,” he added.

On Thursday night, the Korean Central News Agency, the North’s official media outlet, released a statement in the name of the National Defense Commission, proposing to ease military tensions on the peninsula and improve inter-Korean relations.

As part of conciliatory efforts, North Korea demanded that the South stop all of “provocative acts,” and that both sides halt “slander and insults” against each other starting Jan. 30, the first day of Korea’s Lunar New Year.

The North considers South Korea’s military exercises near the five frontline islands in the Yellow Sea - a region regarded as a major flashpoint between the two Koreas - as an act of aggression.

If the South accepts these requests, then all inter-Korean matters would be resolved, including the botched plans for reunions of war-torn families, North Korea stated.

The two Koreas were supposed to hold family reunions last September, but North Korea cancelled them four days before the meetings were to take place. South Korea proposed to hold the reunions again in early January, but the North again declined.


BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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