Joint military exercises kick off, remain low key

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Joint military exercises kick off, remain low key

South Korea and the United States kicked off two joint military exercises, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, yesterday in a low-key manner so as not to ruin the conciliatory mood on the peninsula amid reunions in North Korea for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The computer-simulating Key Resolve drills will be carried out until March 6, while the field training exercises of Foal Eagle will last until April 18. U.S. forces sent about 5,200 soldiers, an increase of 1,700 forces from last year for the Key Resolve exercises.

The Foal Eagle drills will see less forces - about 7,500 - from nearly 10,000 last year. About 200,000 South Korean forces will also join the drills, the military said.

“The size of the two drills will be similar to those in previous years,” a South Korean military official said. “Although the strategic weapons mobilized last year due to heightened military tensions in the country are not [being utilized] this year [from the United States], the situation will be flexible depending on inter-Korean relations.”

In March 2013, North Korea said that inter-Korean relations had entered into “a state of war” and threatened to strike targets in South Korea, the United States and U.S. military bases in Hawaii and Guam in retaliation after nuclear-capable U.S. B-2 stealth bombers participated in joint military drills in the South.

While South Korea has remained low-key in publicizing the joint military drills, North Korea as usual released an editorial criticizing the exercises, though its stance was not as stern as anticipated.

The Rodong Sinmun, the regime’s mouthpiece, said on Sunday that “the Key Resolve exercises are raising tensions” on the Korean Peninsula and denounced Washington, though so far the North has not hinted at a military response.

“So far, if our military conducted large-scale exercises, North Korea would also carry out full-scale drills in response,” another South Korean military official said. “But this year, they just finished their regular winter exercises and are planning their own evaluation programs on their drills.”

In particular, North Korea has reduced the number of its fighter jets last year, from 400 to 700 to less than 100 per day, according to the South Korean military. The decrease is likely partly due to a reduction in imports of jet aircraft fuel from China, though the South Korean military believes it could also be a sign that Pyongyang is making an effort to mend relations with Seoul.

Meanwhile, the reunions of long-lost family members between the two Koreas were held as scheduled, despite the start of the military exercises. Just like in previous events, senior participants exchanged gifts during private talks.

While South Koreans prepared a variety of presents, including everyday amenities and ever-popular Choco Pies, gifts from North Korean families were uniform - three different kinds of liquor, scarves and a tablecloth embroidered with cranes, a symbol of longevity.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]


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