Straits Times [Singapore] & AFP on Tuesday, March 04, 2003
SEOUL # US and South Korean troops began major joint war games on Tuesday to deter North Korea’s military threat amid tensions heightened by North Korean fighters which had intercepted a US spy plane.
Thousands of US soldiers have already been out near the heavily armed inter-Korean border for a warm-up mock battle ahead of RSOI/FE 03, which was thrown into the spotlight due to a stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear weapons drive.
‘The exercises began today with preparations to receive 5,000 American soldiers brought from the United States and the Pacific region,’ a US military official told AFP.
Seoul and Washington have refused to disclose the number of soldiers mobilised for the exercises, which they said are designed to improve the ability of allied forces to defend South Korea against an invasion by North Korea.
Last year, the exercises involved hundreds of thousands of South Korean and US troops including some 37,000 American soldiers based here and reinforcements from abroad.
This year’s drill includes reconnaissance and special forces, US authorities have said.
North Korea has angrily condemned the joint drills as preparations for an invasion.
The crisis began in October last year over Washington’s announcement that North Korea had pursued nuclear weapons research after signing a 1994 accord freezing its atomic programme.
Tensions have escalated after four North Korean fighters intercepted a US RC-135S surveillance plane and locked onto it with its fire control radar on Sunday. # AFP