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North Korea on combat alert as U.S., South hold drills

Mon Mar 8, 2010 7:25am GMT
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Monday it had put its army on full combat alert, ready to "blow up" South Korea as joint drills between the South and the United States got underway.

The drills, seen by Pyongyang as nuclear war manoeuvres, last for about two weeks and are aimed at testing the allies' defence readiness. They draw fiery rhetoric from the North each year that fuels tensions on the Korean peninsula, though they have been held for decades without major incident.

"The units of the three services of the KPA (Korean People's Army) should keep themselves fully ready to go into action in order to blow up the citadel of aggressors once the order is issued," the North's KCNA news agency quoted its military command as saying.

The comments were made after China, the North's main benefactor, said it wanted stalled nuclear disarmament talks resumed before July. It urged all parties to the six-country forum, including the United States and South Korea, to try harder.

The North has come under pressure to return to the disarmament-for-aid nuclear talks because of U.N. sanctions imposed after a May 2009 nuclear test.

The North said at the weekend that any talks to denuclearise the Korean peninsula would "naturally come to a standstill" because of the drills. North Korea conducted "live fire" exercises near sea borders with the South earlier this year.

Sanctions have dealt a blow to its wobbly economy, and a botched currency move late last year has sparked inflation and rare civil unrest.

The two Koreas are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

The Resolve/Foal Eagle drills involve about 18,000 U.S. troops, U.S. Forces Korea said, with 8,000 coming from abroad and 10,000 already stationed in the South.

The South's Defence Ministry said about 20,000 of its troops would participate.

The United States, which fought on behalf of the South during the war, has about 28,000 troops in the country to support its 670,000 soldiers. The North's deploys most of its 1.2 million troops near the border with the South.