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US and South Korea confirm military exercises as North Korea cancels visit for US prisoner

The US and South Korea have announced annual joint military drills are to take place from February to April. The news came as North Korea canceled a visit planned for a jailed American missionary.

The United States and South Korea announced on Monday they are to hold their annual joint military drills from February 24 until April 18. The command of the combined forces said that North Korea had been notified of the plan.

"The United Nations Command has informed the Korean People's Army in North Korea through their Panmunjom mission about both Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercise dates and the non-provocative nature of this training," the command said in a statement.

North Korea called for the drills to be canceled and described them as a prelude to war. It also warned the exercises could endanger plans for reunions between families from the North and South of the country.

The Communist government in Pyongyang, meanwhile, rescinded a recent invitation to US special envoy Robert King, to discuss the release of imprisoned American missionary and businessman Kenneth Bae for the second time.

Bae, a 45-year-old Korean-American, has been held for more than a year in North Korea after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to overthrow the state. Bae has acknowledged being a missionary and that he conducted religious services in the North, a country hostile to Westerners advocating religious causes.

A US State Department official said on Sunday: "We are deeply disappointed by the DPRK [North Korean] decision - for a second time - to rescind its invitation for Ambassador [Robert] King to travel to Pyongyang to discuss Kenneth Bae's release. The DPRK announced publicly in May 2013 it would not use the fate of Kenneth Bae as a political bargaining chip."

The official added that American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson had offered to go to Pyongyang to try to free Bae.

Last week, North Korea protested the flight of a US nuclear-capable B-52 bomber off the west coast of the Korean peninsula.

Last year, North Korea

threatened nuclear attacks against the United States and its allies

at the height of tensions which coincided with the US and South Korean drills.

jm/jr (AP, Reuters)

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