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South Korea, US continue joint drills amid soaring tensions

 
 
 
 
 
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A US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter lands on the deck of an aircraft carrier during joint military drills between the US and South Korea in the Yellow Sea, southwest of Seoul, on June 24, 2012.

South Korea and the United States have continued joint military drills amid rising tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula.

South Korean and US military forces took part in a joint base defense training operation at the Osan US Air Base in the city of Pyeongtaek in the southwestern part of the East Asian country on Thursday.

South Korean marines also joined a live-fire drill on Baengnyeong Island located in the waters of the Yellow Sea.

On March 12, North Korea threatened to “wipe out” the island as its first target and turn it into “a sea of flames” in case of any conflict.

Earlier in the day, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won paid a visit to Yeonpyeong Island, near the disputed maritime border between the two countries.

“As a strong buttress protecting the lives and property of the people, the military should stage drills as if in a real war, maintain a high alert and be fully prepared to firmly respond to any types of North Korean provocations,” Chung said.

On March 11, Seoul and Washington launched a week-long annual joint military exercise near the Korean Peninsula despite warnings from Pyongyang. The drills involve 10,000 South Korean soldiers and about 3,000 US troops.

When the drills kicked off, Pyongyang cut off its hotline with Seoul and South Korean Defense Ministry Spokesman Kim Min-seok said, “North Korea isn’t answering the communication hotline that runs through the Panmunjom at the moment.”

On Wednesday, North Korea confirmed that it had scrapped the 1953 armistice and peace pacts signed with Seoul in protest against joint South Korea-US military maneuvers.

Pyongyang had also said a second Korean War would be “unavoidable” if the United States and South Korea refused Pyongyang’s calls to cancel their large-scale joint drill.

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