SKorea, US begin annual joint military drills


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea and the United States began annual military drills Monday that North Korea usually calls a rehearsal for invasion.

This year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills occur as tensions seem to be easing on the Korean Peninsula with the two Koreas working toward reopening a shuttered jointly run factory park. Pyongyang agreed Sunday to talks on reuniting families separated by war.

North Korean state media have not made major statements on the exercises thus far. North Korea published near-daily warlike rhetoric and threatened nuclear war during earlier annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises this year.

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills set to continue until Aug. 30 are computer-simulated war games that involve 30,000 American and 50,000 South Korean troops, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry and the U.S. military command in Seoul.

The allies have said the drills are defensive in nature and they have no intentions of attacking North Korea.

Despite North Korea’s recent conciliatory gesture, some analysts in South Korea are wary of the North’s intentions as they say Pyongyang often follows provocations and threats with a charm offensive meant to win aid.

North Korea said Sunday it agreed on South Korea’s offer for Red Cross talks Friday on the family reunion but proposed another set of talks Thursday on resuming lucrative tours of Diamond Mountain, implying it wants the tourism’s restart in return for allowing the reunion.

“The North Korean intention is obvious. It is saying it wants to exchange the resumption of the Diamond Mountain tours with the family reunions,” said Lim Eul Chul, a professor at South Korea’s Kyungnam University.

South Korea suspended tours to Diamond Mountain after a South Korean woman was shot dead by a North Korean border guard there in 2008. The project had provided a legitimate source of hard currency to North Korea before its suspension.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Monday it’s reviewing North Korea’s offer for talks on the mountain tours.