Thursday, 7 March 2013

North Korea's nationwide military drills loom next week amid threat

 Sang (file pic)
North Korea has started submarine drills and stepped up preparations for nationwide military exercises, which may be timed to coincide with annual joint drills by South Korea and the United States set to start next week, military sources said Wednesday.

   The latest move comes as Pyongyang has ratcheted up its hostile rhetoric against Seoul and Washington as the two allies last week launched a two-month field training exercise called Foal Eagle. Separately, joint forces will conduct computer-simulated drills named Key Resolve from March 11 to 21.

   On Tuesday, Pyongyang threatened to scrap the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, citing tensions over South Korean-U.S. joint military exercises and the United Nations' move to impose sanctions for its Feb. 12 nuclear test.

   A statement by the North's military said the armistice will be "completely" nullified from March 11, when Key Resolve gets into full swing in the South, warning a "precise" strike at any time.

   "North Korea's submarines have entered military maneuvers in the Yellow Sea and East Sea," a military source said, on the condition of anonymity. "This year's winter drill was more intense than in the past years and artillery exercises tripled."

   When President Park Geun-hye was sworn into office on Feb. 25, North Korea's artillery unit carried out firearm training targeting the South Korean capital Seoul, he said.

   The North will start large-scale drills across the nation from next week when South Korean and the U.S. troops start the two-week war game, another military source said, asking for anonymity.

   A large-scale firearm drill will be held near the east coastal city of Wonsan, while nationwide military maneuvers will be carried out, the source said.

   According to multiple military sources, the North has recently declared a "no-fly zone" in the west and the east of the Korean Peninsula during the May 11-20 Key Resolve training period, fueling speculation that it may fire off missiles. Seoul's defense ministry declined to comment.

   In the past, Pyongyang had declared no-fly zones before it fired short-range missiles or conducted maritime firing drills.

   "As (North Korea's) army, navy and air force are preparing a large-scale firearm training near Wonsan, the no-fly zone may be aimed at maritime or air firing drills," a third source said. "But we don't exclude a possibility of a missile launch."

   In response to the North's latest military movement, South Korea has stepped up its military readiness and surveillance to counter any North Korean provocations during the training period, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

   In a statement, the South Korean military on Wednesday said that if the North provokes the South again, it will "strongly and sternly" punish the North Korean leadership, not to mention the origin of the provocation and its supporting forces.

   "If North Korea goes ahead with provocations and threatens the lives and safety of South Koreans, our military will strongly and sternly retaliate against the command and its supporting forces," said the statement read by Army. Maj. Gen. Kim Yong-hyun, a senior official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a press conference. "We want to make it clear that (our military) has made all preparations to do that."

   Seoul and Washington said the annual drills are defensive in nature, but the communist nation has always denounced them as a rehearsal for a northward U.S. invasion aimed at toppling its communist regime.

   About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

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