US, South Korean armies start annual joint military drill | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 19.08.2013
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US, South Korean armies start annual joint military drill

The United States and South Korea have begun an annual military drill that normally draws angry rhetoric from the North. So far, though, Pyongyang’s response to the joint exercises has been muted.

This year's Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill, which started on Monday, involves around 50,000 South Korean and 30,000 American military personnel. The 10-day-long exercises, which are defensive in nature, are comparatively low key, with the participating troops largely confined to their barracks as the war games are played out in computer simulations. No actual land, sea or air maneuvers were planned.

In past years, Pyongyang has denounced the drill as preparation for an invasion of North Korea, and last month the communist party's Rodong Simmun newspaper warned that if the US and South Korea were to go ahead with the exercises, it could bring the peninsula “to the brink of war.” Since the exercises began this time, though, there has been no comment from Pyongyang.

Easing of tensions

This year's drill comes at a time when North Korea has been seeking to reduce tensions with its Southern rival after months of saber-rattling.

On Sunday, Pyongyang agreed to a proposal by Seoul to restart a program that reunites families separated by the two countries' 1950-53 war. The two sides are scheduled to hold talks on Friday to work out the details. The family reunions have been on ice since 2010.

This came just days after Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to restart work at the jointly run Kaesong industrial zone, just over the border in the North. It had been shut down in April amid heightened tensions sparked by North Korea's third nuclear test, which it carried out in February, as well as a resulting fresh round of United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang.

The North has also proposed a resumption of tours to the Mount Kumgang resort by South Korean tourists. South Korea's Unification Ministry said on Monday that it was reviewing the proposal. These tours, which, like the Kaesong industrial zone, are an important source of hard currency for Pyongyang, were suspended in 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist after she had wandered into a restricted zone.

pfd/tj (AP, AFP)