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US- South Korea war exercises begin
SEOUL, Jul 25 (Agencies):
Published on 25 Jul. 2010 11:15 PM IST
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The United States and South Korea on Sunday kicked off their largest joint war game in years, with a nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier prowling off the east coast of South Korea while North Korea threatened to retaliate with its nuclear weapons and reportedly put its military on an alert for war.
Rising tensions demonstrated how tenuous peace remained on the divided peninsula after the Korean War was temporarily halted in a ceasefire between the U.S.-led United Nations forces and the communist troops from North Korea and China 57 years ago on Tuesday.
The current spate of tension was sparked when a South Korean warship was blown up in March, killing 46 sailors. A team of investigators from South Korea, the United States and other countries that joined the U.N. forces during the war determined in May that North Korea torpedoed the ship.
Sweden, which did not join combats of the war, participated in the part of the investigation that concluded that the torpedo was “manufactured by North Korea,” but not in the intelligence analysis that determined that the torpedo was fired by a North Koran submarine.
North Korea has called the investigation a “fake.” China, a North Korean ally in the war, also rejected it. Meanwhile, the United States and South Korea announced new sanctions against North Korea last week when their foreign and defense ministers traveled together to the inter-Korean border in a symbolic gesture of confronting the North.
On Sunday, in a show of their combined military power, a fleet of U.S. and South Korean naval ships and submarines sailed into waters off the east coast of South Korea, led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, one of the biggest ships in the U.S. Navy. Japan, a historical rival of the two Koreas but an ally of South Korea and the United States in their confrontation with North Korea, dispatched military observers in the four-day exercise.
The drills mobilized 20 ships, 8,000 troops from both allies and an unusually large number of warplanes: more than 200 aircraft, including the F-22 Raptor fighter, which joins an exercise in South Korea for the first time.
The exercises this week are the first in a series of U.S.-South Korean maneuvers to be conducted in the coming months. U.S. officials warned last week that political pressure arising from the succession of power from the ailing North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, to his youngest son, Kim Jong-il, might prompt the regime to attempt further military provocations.
On Saturday, North Korea vowed to launch a “sacred war” against the United States and South Korea at “any time necessary,” and counter their “largest-ever nuclear war exercises” with its own “powerful nuclear deterrence.”
Radio Free Asia reported that the North has put its military and hunger-stricken people on high alert. North Korea uses tensions with the Americans to boost solidarity at home and justify its development of nuclear weapons.
It will likely test short-range missiles and fire artillery in waters near the disputed western sea border and might even attempt a test of its long-range missile and a nuclear device, said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea analyst at Dongguk University in Seoul. North Korea is also enriching uranium to boost its nuclear capabilities.
“North Korea will try to fend off the mounting joint pressure from the United States and South Korea by retching up tensions in stages,” Mr. Kim said. “For now, both Washington and Seoul seem to believe that they got nothing big to lose by continuing the pressure. What worries me is that the tension is not just between the two Koreas but also between the biggies, the United States and China.” China turned unusually vocal in confronting the United States and criticizing its joint military maneuvers with South Korea, prompting the allies to relocate their drills from the sensitive Yellow Sea.

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