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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The resumption last week of joint ROK-U.S. marine drills “runs counter” to September’s DPRK-ROK military agreement, North Korea’s highest circulation daily newspaper claimed on Monday in an accusation swiftly denied by the South Korean military.
In an editorial, the Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), denounced the ROK-U.S. Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP) joint military drill, which began on November 5.
Seoul and Washington in June originally agreed to suspend selected joint military drills, including Ulchi Freedom Guardian and two KMEP training exercises, originally scheduled to take place between July and September.
In an article condemning the “Anachronistic military move,” the Rodong said the resumption of the drills after six months violated the military agreement, signed as an annex to the Pyongyang Joint Declaration in September.
“The joint drills between South Korean and U.S marines that have been resumed this time runs counter to the North-South military agreement, which committed to the substantive elimination of the danger of war and the fundamental resolution of hostile relations,” the commentary said.
The South Korean and U.S. marine corps “are overtly staging war drills,” it continued, describing them as an “anachronistic military move threatening peace” and hampering the alleviation of tensions.
“To promote the current situation on the Korean peninsula whose direction moves toward dialogue and peace, we shouldn’t take military action which opposes the other side and behave rationally to help the alleviation of tensions.”
In response to the commentary, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Monday reiterated its position that KMEP “is defensive in nature and has been staged annually.”
When asked about the claim that the exercise is a violation of the inter-Korean military agreement, military spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said Seoul disagreed, insisting there is no plan to suspend the KMEP “as of now.”
Approximately 500 personnel from the U.S. Marine Corps Forces in Okinawa and the Republic of Korea Marine Corps have been staging a two-week joint military exercise near Pohang city in North Gyeongsang Province.
Seoul and Washington previously committed to conducting the joint KMEP military drills 24 times in 2019.
Seoul and Pyongyang have ceased military exercises targeting at each other along the military demarcation line (MDL) since November 1, in accordance with the September military agreement.
The two sides have also suspended all live-fire artillery drills and field training exercises at the regiment level and above within 5 kilometers from the MDL.
The U.S. and South Korean militaries, too, in October agreed to suspend the joint large-scale Vigilant Ace air combat exercise.
Other DPRK media outlets Arirang-Meari and Uriminzokkiri on Monday also denounced the resumption of the ROK-U.S. military drills.
In a commentary, the outer-track Uriminzokkiri outlet claimed the inter-Korean military agreement and declarations do not allow “small-scale military drills.”
“The behavior of the South Korean military… is directly contrary to the inter-Korean military agreement and [represents] anachronistic and rash behavior which gravely threatens the situation of the Korean peninsula aiming at peace and prosperity,” it continued, saying the drills threatened the “smooth development of inter-Korean relations and stable peace and prosperity of the Korean peninsula.”
The Arirang-Meari, in turn, reported that the South Korean military was “bent on hiding provocative characteristics justifying the exercise as small-scale drills.”
“Any type of military drills aimed at each other should never be allowed regardless of its scale,” it said, calling for the “thorough implementation” of the inter-Korean military agreement.
The South Korean military was involved in “war drills in collusion with the foreign power which is contrary to the North-South military agreement,” it continued, describing it as a “two-faced behavior” and warning of “a grave consequence” in response.
Sunday also saw the DPRK Today condemn “the military confrontation racket” represented by the KMEP drills.
Arirang-Meari and Uriminzokkiri also carried statements denouncing Seoul for the KMEP drills on Friday and Saturday.
Despite the condemnations, however, Seoul and Pyongyang have this week continued to push ahead with the implementation of the September military agreement.
The Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) on Monday said the military had begun to demolish 10 guard posts in the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
The two Koreas originally agreed to withdraw a total of 22 guard posts in October, but in November agreed to retain one guard post on each side.
In a separate statement, the ROK defense ministry on Sunday said North and South Korean military authorities have completed the withdrawal of firearms, equipment, and personnel from the 11 guard posts.
Seoul and Pyongyang plan to finish the process of demolishing a total of 20 guard posts by the end of this month.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: U.S. Department of Defense