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Monday, 21 August, 2000, 04:38 GMT 05:38 UK
Seoul scales down war games
North Korean soldier
The two Koreas are still technically at war
By Caroline Gluck in Seoul

South Korea says it is scaling back its participation in annual joint military exercises with the United States in order to reflect the mood of reconciliation with North Korea.

The exercises, called Ulchi Focus Lens, last for two weeks and are the world's largest computer-simulated war games.

As they got under way, South Korean defence officials said that this year the drills would differ from those held in previous years.

For the first time this year no South Korean troops will be deployed in the field and, say defence officials, the exercises will focus more on military preparedness in the event of a national emergency and in countering national disasters rather than preparing for a potential North Korean attack.

Critical North

Their comments come a day after one of North Korea's most influential state-run organisations strongly criticised the joint military exercises.

On Sunday, the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland called the manoeuvres reckless and militarily provocative.

It said the decision to go ahead with the drills might threaten all future contact and co-operation between the two Koreas.

But military officials in the South say national defence drills are essential for troop training.

They also point out that despite improved ties between the two Koreas - which have never signed a formal peace treaty since the end of the Korean War in 1953 - there have been no specific steps taken so far which reduced military tension on the peninsula.

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See also:

31 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Koreas reach breakthrough deal
14 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Koreas begin 'reconciliation week'
18 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
US keeps military option in Korea
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