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Monday, August 22, 2016, 12:21

ROK, US start drills despite DPRK nuke threat

By Associated Press

ROK, US start drills despite DPRK nuke threat
ROK President Park Geun-hye speaks during a session of the National Security Council at the presidential house in Seoul, ROK, Aug 22, 2016. (Baek Seung-ryul / Yonhap via AP)
SEOUL, Republic of Korea — Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States began annual military drills Monday despite the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) threat of nuclear strikes in response to the exercises that it calls an invasion rehearsal.

Such fiery rhetoric by Pyongyang is not unusual. But the latest warning comes at a time of more tension following the defection of a senior DPRK diplomat and a US plan to place a high-tech defense missile system in ROK.

"If they show the slightest sign of aggression on the inviolable land, seas and air where the sovereignty of the DPRK is exercised, it would turn the stronghold of provocation into a heap of ashes through Korean-style preemptive nuclear strike," reads a statement issued by a spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People's Army Monday.

The statement called the military drill "a clear manifestation of a vicious plot" to inflict misery of colonial rule over the DPRK people.

DPRK's "first-strike" units are read to mount retaliatory attacks on ROK and US forces involved in the drills, according to the statement, carried by Pyongyang's state media.

ROK's Unification Ministry expressed "strong" regret over the DPRK's warning, saying the drills with the US are defensive in nature. Seoul and Washington have repeatedly said they have no intentions of invading Pyongyang.

This year's Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills that began Monday for a 12-day run are largely computer-simulated war games. The training involves 25,000 American troops and 50,000 ROK soldiers, according to US and ROK militaries.

The drills come just days after Seoul announced that Thae Yong Ho, No. 2 at the North's embassy in London, had recently defected to ROK because he was disillusioned with DPRK's leadership. Pyongyang's state media called him "human scum" and a criminal who had been ordered home for a series of alleged criminal acts, including sexually assaulting a minor.

ROK's president said Monday there were signs of "serious cracks" in DPRK's ruling elite class, and that Pyongyang could carry out some action to divert public attention away from such domestic problems.

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