Threats mar US, S Korea war games
TENS of thousands of South Korean and American troops began a military exercise simulating an all-out North Korean attack yesterday, as Pyongyang threatened a pre-emptive strike on forces participating in the drill.
The two-week annual Ulchi Freedom exercise is largely computer-simulated, but still involves 50,000 South Korean and 30,000 United States soldiers.
The drill always triggers a spike in tensions on the divided Korean peninsula, and this year it coincides with particularly volatile cross-border relations following a series of high-profile defections.
On August 21, the Unification Ministry in Seoul urged all citizens to be on guard against “North Korean terror threats” and warned of possible assassination attempts on defectors and anti-Pyongyang activists in the South.
Ulchi Freedom plays out a full-scale invasion scenario by nuclear-armed North Korea and both Seoul and Washington insist it remains purely defensive in nature.
Pyongyang views the drill as wilfully provocative and the Korean People’s Army (KPA) issued a statement yesterday, threatening a military response to what it described as a rehearsal for a surprise nuclear attack and invasion of the North.
The slightest violation of North Korea’s territorial sovereignty during the military drill would result in the source of the provocation being turned “into a heap of ashes through Koreanstyle pre-emptive nuclear strike”, the spokesperson said.
Pyongyang has made similar threats in the past, but analysts say the risk of an unintended incident escalating into a military clash is higher this year given the lack of direct communication between the two Koreas.
As tensions rose in the wake of North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January, Pyongyang shut down the two existing hotlines with South Korea – one used by the military and one used for government-to-government communications. –