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2009/03/05 10:59 KST


N. Korea Condemns S. Korea-U.S. Military Drill at Meeting with UNC

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- For the first time in nearly seven years, North Korea and the U.S.-led United Nations Command held general-level meeting on March 2, but the North used the rare military talks to condemn the joint annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises scheduled for next week.

   In the talks held at the truce village of Panmunjom that lasted a little more than 30 minutes, the North demanded South Korea and the U.S. cancel their joint annual drill and repeatedly expressed its fury over the allies' Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercise scheduled for March 9-20. North Korea routinely voices criticism over joint South Korea-U.S. defense drills, accusing the two countries of preparing for an invasion. The allies say their exercise is defense-oriented.

   The annual military drill takes place amid mounting tensions surrounding the North's alleged missile activity and threats of border clashes. Pyongyang is now reportedly preparing to launch a long-range missile, which it claims to be a communication satellite.

   On Feb. 28, North Korea condemned the U.S., saying its troops have increased provocative moves inside the Demilitarized Zone. The U.S. said it has conducted routine monitoring activities. The two sides remain at odds in six-nation talks aimed at dismantling the North's nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang has refused to endorse a U.S. proposal aimed at verifying its past atomic activities.

   The U.N. Command monitors the ceasefire that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, and is led by an American commander who controls the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

   In the March 2 talks, North Korea warned the military exercise would heighten tension along the inter-Korean border. North Korean representative Maj. Gen. Kwak Chol-hui said the exercises would only intensify the already escalating tension between the two Koreas, according to military sources. Kwak, flanked by three other officials, met with four representatives from the United Nations Command.

   The North had requested the military meeting on Feb. 28, sending a phone message saying it wanted to discuss measures for easing inter-Korean tension. Pyongyang also threatened to take "military action," citing alleged violations by the U.S. armed forces in the demilitarized zone.

   "Such activities by the U.S. forces may result in unpredictable military clashes," the North said. In response, the UNC reaffirmed that the annual drills are a defense-oriented exercise and do not involve preparations for aggression.

   Experts said the North appeared to be mostly attempting to shift the blame for the latest regional tension with the talks, and for possible future clashes along the land and sea borders.

   "North Korea filed lengthy complaints against the plan to hold the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercise and the situation involving the U.S. military deployment on the Korean Peninsula," a military source said after the general-level talks between the North and the UNC.

   In this year's drills, the U.S. plans to mobilize 26,000 troops and a nuclear-powered carrier to test its ability to quickly deploy forces should North Korea invade, according to the U.S. Forces Korea.

   Regarding the North's claims of U.S. troops allegedly conducting "provocative activities" by approaching too close to the Military Demarcation Line, the South Korean Defense Ministry said they had not trespassed into the North's territory.

   Officials also said the troops were engaging in justified military activities based on the Armistice signed after the 1950-53 Korean War. The United Nations Command is in charge of monitoring the armistice, and the commander is Gen. Walter Sharp who concurrently heads the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea.

   In a statement carried during the weekend by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang claimed that U.S. troops recently "approached as close as 20 meters from the Military Demarcation Line in the area under the control of the North and the South in the western region and took photographs of a post of the DPRK (North Korea) side."

   "The South side should never forget that the Korean People's Army is keeping itself fully ready for all-out confrontation," it said.

   The UNC said earlier in the day that it views the North's proposal for the military talks as "positive," adding the talks can be useful in "building trust and preventing misunderstanding, as well as introducing transparency regarding the intentions of both sides."

   North Korea and the U.N. Command are scheduled to have a colonel-level contact on March 5 and then to reconvene the general-level talks on March 6. "The sides will continue their talks that were cut short on the first meeting on March 2, and discuss how they can temper their hostilities," a South Korean official said.

   But South Korean officials remained concerned that the North's contact with the UNC is aimed at sidelining South Korea while pursuing talks with the U.S. amid the tense inter-Korean relations. Sources said the South is concerned about the direct dialogue with the U.S. in the absence of any personnel from Seoul.

   Pyongyang has declared void all its past military agreements with Seoul, warning of an armed clash along their U.N.-drawn western sea border. The North has cut off all dialogue with Seoul over the past year. It accuses South Korean President Lee Myung-bak -- who took office last year with a pledge to get tougher on Pyongyang -- of sympathizing with U.S. hardliners.

   Minju Joson, published by the North's Cabinet, on March 3 said that the North Korean armed forces are "fully prepared with combat mobilization posture to sternly strike any provocative maneuvers by the enemies to harm the dignity and safety of our republic."

   "Our revolutionary armed forces are fully prepared with combat mobilization posture to sternly strike any provocative maneuvers by the enemies to harm the dignity and safety of our republic," said Minju Joson, the newspaper of the North's Cabinet.

   The Korean Peninsula is a "powder keg of Northeast Asia," the paper said, and the joint drill "is a serious military threat to our republic and also an extremely dangerous fire play aimed at provoking a new war."

   In the latest U.N. Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations meeting last week, North Korea claimed that the U.N. Command in South Korea, which oversees the ceasefire along the inter-Korean border, was "cooked up" by the U.S. and should withdraw in order to achieve peace.

   "If any peace-keeping operation is decided on in the interests of some countries and used as a lever for interference in other countries' internal affairs, such operation may, on the contrary, aggravate any dispute," Yun Yong-il, a North Korean envoy, said during the annual meeting on Feb. 24.

   "The 'U.N. Command' present in South Korea is nothing but the U.S. command and the 'U.N. forces' there are no more than the GIs," Yun said, calling for international attention to disband the U.N. Command. His speech was carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency.

   South Korea's representative, Park In-kook, rejected the North Korean claim as "false allegations" and criticized the North for "meaninglessly" wasting the committee's time.