North Korea said it was prepared for war today, as the US and South Korea began a series of annual joint military drills.
The exercises are a "grave provocation," according to the North Korean Foreign Ministry, cited by the state's KCNA news agency. "The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] is fully ready for both dialogue and war."
South Korea maintains the drills are defensive, not aggressive.
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According to Seoul newspaper the Chosun Ilbo, the first phase of the exercises, named "Key Resolve," runs from today to March 9, and involves 2,100 US troops and 200,000 South Korean forces. It will be followed by a second stage, "Foal Eagle," in which some 11,000 US troops will carry out aerial, sea and ground maneuver operations with South Korean forces for the whole month of March.
The US military has stated that the exercises will be monitored by international observers to ensure they do not break the Koreas' armistice agreement, the BBC reported.
The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, has ordered the army to make a "powerful retaliatory strike" if any "enemy" intrudes even a fraction of a millimeter into North Korean waters, KCNA reported. Kim yesterday visited the army unit suspected of shelling the island of Yeonpyeong in October 2010, an attack in which four South Koreans were killed.
North Korea regularly denounces military cooperation between the US and South Korea, but its threats this time round are "more vociferous," according to the Chosun Ilbo.
KCNA claimed that this year's exercises "go beyond the purpose of the previous drills," and accused South Korea and the US of seeking to strike North Korea while it was still mourning its late leader, Kim Jong Il.
The Chosun Ilbo, however, suggested that the mounting rhetoric could be because Kim Jong Un has yet to consolidate his hold on power.
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