SK-US drills start as North rejects armistice
AFP and APSEOUL -- South Korea and the United States launched joint drills Monday involving thousands of troops, defying North Korea's apocalyptic threat to repudiate the 60-year-old Korean War armistice in retaliation.
March 12, 2013, 12:19 am TWN
The start of the two-week “Key Resolve” exercise follows a week of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea also threatening nuclear war over U.N. sanctions adopted after its third atomic test last month.
Pyongyang has condemned the annual joint maneuvers as a provocative invasion rehearsal and announced that — effective Monday — it was scrapping the 1953 armistice and voiding nonaggression treaties signed with the South.
North Korea's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reported that the armistice was nullified Monday as Pyongyang had earlier announced.
The South's Unification Ministry confirmed the North followed through on another promise Monday, shutting down a Red Cross hotline that the North and South used for general communication and to discuss aid shipments and separated families' reunions.
“The North did not answer our call this morning,” a ministry spokeswoman said. The hotline was installed in 1971 and the North has severed it on five occasions in the past — most recently in 2010.
In a dispatch late Monday from its official news agency KCNA, North Korea restated its view that the armistice, “which has existed for form's sake, would be completely invalid from March 11.”
The U.S.-South Korean war games are “bringing the dark clouds of a nuclear war to hang over the Korean peninsula,” KCNA added, while vowing that North Korea's armed forces were ready for an “all-out action.”
Rodong Sinmun said that with “the cease-fire agreement blown apart ... no one can predict what will happen from now on.”
Voiding the armistice theoretically paves the way for a resumption of hostilities, as the two Koreas never signed a formal peace treaty and remain technically at war.
“The North is giving the impression it wants to put things back to where they were 60 years ago,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
The two Koreas continue to have at least two working channels of communication between their militaries and aviation authorities.