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5 Mar, 2024 12:34

North Korea condemns latest US-South Korea drills

Pyongyang claims an invasion is being planned, while Seoul says the exercises are purely defensive
North Korea condemns latest US-South Korea drills

The Defense Ministry of North Korea has strongly condemned what it described as “reckless” military drills that are being held by the United States and South Korea, according to a statement published by state media on Tuesday.

The statement refers to the annual Freedom Shield exercises that commenced off the Korean Peninsula on Monday and will last for 11 days. This year’s drills involve twice the number of troops and will carry out roughly double the number of field-training drills compared to last year.

The exercises will focus on deterring North Korea’s nuclear threats, and will involve live-firing, bombing, air assault, and missile interception, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Lee Sung-jun said last week.

In the statement released by ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, Pyongyang described the drills as a “further escalation of military threats” and as “an invasion attempt” against a sovereign nation. It “sternly” warned the US and South Korea to stop any further “provocative and destabilizing” actions. “A nuclear war may be ignited even with a single spark,” added the document.

According to Reuters, South Korea’s defense ministry dismissed the North’s statement, saying the drills are defensive and meant to fend off the North’s provocations and aggression. It also warned of an “overwhelming response” if North Korea launches direct provocations during the drills.

North Korea has long opposed joint US-South Korea military drills off the Korean Peninsula, claiming they are rehearsals for an invasion. Pyongyang carried out weapons tests in the past in response to previous joint exercises.

In January, North Korea tested a solid-fuel, intermediate-range ballistic missile with a hypersonic warhead and an “underwater nuclear weapon system.” According to state media, the move was a response to navy drills carried out by South Korea, the US, and Japan, conducted during the same month.

Pyongyang and Seoul never signed a peace treaty after the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which divided the peninsula, and tensions remain high. In recent months, North Korea has conducted numerous missile launches, while criticizing its southern neighbor for holding joint military drills with the US, which has some 30,000 troops stationed on the peninsula.