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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 13:20 GMT
Anger over Korea military exercise
North Korean troops
North Korea is furious about the manoeuvres
The US and South Korea have launched major military exercises, in a move condemned by North Korea as a declaration of war.

If the aggressors ignite a war on this land... they will face punishment unprecedented in war history

North Korean newspaper 'Rodong Sinmun'
Thousands of troops are involved in the week-long exercise, which will simulate a conflict with the communist North.

"The exercises began this morning (Thursday) in various locations throughout the Republic of Korea," said a US military official.

South Korea and the US have said the drills are purely defensive - but they come at a time of increased tension with the North.

The government in Pyongyang is furious at being labelled part of an "axis of evil" by US President George W Bush.

It said the drills were preparations to launch a "nuclear holocaust" on the Korean peninsula, following recent news reports that the US was prepared to use nuclear weapons against seven countries, including North Korea.

South Korean solider (l) and North Korean soldier (r) on the Korean border
The two Koreas are still technically at war

Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, carried the threat: "If the aggressors ignite a war on this land at any cost, they will face punishment unprecedented in war history and will be bound to drink a bitter cup of defeat."

Pyongyang has filed more than 100 complaints against the exercises through its officials media over the past few weeks, according to the South Korean Yonhap news agency - a key monitor of North Korean media.

Talks deadlock

The drills involve 18,000 US troops based in South Korea and a small number of troops from bases in Japan, Guam and the US. About 315,000 South Korean soldiers are taking part.

The exercise is bigger than usual because it merges two annual drills that used to be held separately.

It combines a computerised war game with the annual field exercises.

The troops will undergo a range of training, including counter-infiltration exercises and other tests to evaluate the operational mobility of forces.

A landing drill will be staged on Friday near the south-eastern industrial port of Pohang.

South Korea is anxious to see dialogue between the US and North Korea get back on track.

On Wednesday, President Kim Dae-jung said North Korea had "no other choice" but to resume talks with the US.

North Korea has so far rejected a US offer for unconditional talks, believing too many strings will be attached to aid and other help.

The two Koreas remain technically at war, as their three-year conflict ended in 1953 in an armistice that has never been replaced with a permanent peace treaty.

See also:

21 Mar 02 | Media reports
North Korea slams war games
20 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea 'must talk' with US
28 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
US and S Korea plan major drill
14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea threatens nuclear pull-out
19 Feb 02 | Media reports
N Korea attacks 'junket of war'
06 Feb 02 | Americas
Analysis: The 'axis of evil' debate
21 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Seoul scales down war games
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