Amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, the United States and South Korea have begun annual military drills. North Korea responded by cutting off its hotline with the South.
Recent days have seen a defiant North Korea threaten to disregard the armistice that ended the Korean War and even launch a nuclear attack against the United States. The threats come in the wake of new UN sanctions against the communist nation.
South Korean officials reported that their northern colleagues failed to answer two calls Monday on a hotline between the two nations. It is believed that the North has delivered on its threat to cut communications because of the drills.
The two sides normally speak twice a day during the week, but "the North did not answer our call this morning," a spokeswoman for the South's Unification Ministry said, according to the AFP news agency.
The hotline has been in place since 1971, and North Korea has severed it at least twice before, most recently in 2010.
Pyongyang has lashed out at the Americans and South Koreans over the drills, as well as at the UN vote imposing new sanctions following the North's nuclear test in February.
North Korea has also threatened the United States, saying that the US mainland is within the range of its long-range missiles. Washington responded by saying it is capable of fending off a North Korean ballistic attack.
The North isn't believed to be able to build a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile, but the country's recent rhetoric has been more warlike than in the past.
North Korea has also warned the South of a possible nuclear war. South Korea normally brushes off threats by the North, but this time they have responded with a show of strength. The military drills, which involve 10,000 South Korean and about 3,000 American troops, are part of larger war games that began on March 1 and are expected to continue for two months.
North Korean officials claim the drills are a preparation for future invasion, but South Korea and the US say the drills are of a defensive nature.
tm/dr (AFP, AP, dpa)