US and South Korean troops have kicked off joint military exercises. Pyongyang has protested but it wasn’t immediately clear what effect this would have on a recent thawing of relations between the North and South.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported on Monday that the military exercises dubbed “Key Resolve” and “Foal Eagle” had begun despite protests from Pyongyang.
Foal Eagle, the longer of the two exercises, is to run until mid April and involves air, ground and naval field training. Key Resolve is to last for around a week and involves mainly computer- simulated exercises.
A total of 12,700 US and many more South Korean troops were to be involved in the two annual exercises, which Washington and Seoul insist are defensive in nature.
As it does every year, though, North Korea has cried foul, with the newspaper of its ruling communist party claiming in its Saturday edition that the manoeuvres were a "vicious attempt" by the South and the US to undo goodwill that had been generated between the two Koreas by the first family reunions in more than three years.
Family reunions threatened
Pyongyang had earlier demanded that Seoul call off the joint exercises, threatening to cancel the reunions between members of families separated since the end of the war between the North and the South more than six decades ago. Later, however, it agreed to allow the reunions, which began last Thursday, to go ahead.
The first Korean family reunions since 2010 are seen as a key sign of the North's will to improve relations with its southern neighbour, which come a year after last year's military drills led to months of heightened tensions on the peninsula, with Pyongyang going as far as threatening a pre-emptive military strike against Seoul.
US defence officials have said this year's manoeuvres would be scaled down from last year. Yonhap also quoted a South Korean military official who said the would be relatively “low key.” However the AFP news agency quoted a spokesman from South Korea's defense ministry, who said there would be “no readjustment” to the scale of the exercises.
pfd/hc (AFP, dpa)