South Korean troops have been practicing a war plan during joint military drills with the US that envisions occupying and stabilizing North Korea, news reports said yesterday.
North Korea has threatened fiery retaliation against the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises involving tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops.
“Distinctive features of this year’s exercises are the stabilization operation, which is being led by the unification ministry,” an unidentified military official was quoted as saying by the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.
“The unification ministry is practicing a program aimed at turning North Koreans into Republic of Korea [South Korean] citizens, which is the culmination of such a stabilization operation,” he said.
Past UFG exercises practiced restoring administration in occupied North Korean areas, but this one goes a step further, with re-education and stabilization carried out by the unification ministry.
The South’s Yonhap news agency, quoting an unidentified government official, also reported the stabilization exercise, which is likely to further infuriate the North at a time when inter-Korean relations are at a new low.
“Various drills designed for different circumstances are being conducted,” unification ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said, without elaborating.
The UFG exercises envision powerful counteroffensives into the North up to the Chongchon River, 80km north of Pyongyang, in case of aggression from the North, the Dong-A Ilbo said.
The Aug. 16 to Aug. 26 joint exercise is the latest in a series being staged by the South — either alone or with the US — after the sinking of one of its warships in March, which sharply raised tensions on the peninsula.
The South blamed the North for torpedoing the corvette, killing 46 sailors, an accusation the North angrily denies.
The current drill involves 56,000 South Korean and 30,000 US troops, as well as an unspecified number of US soldiers based in the US who link up by computer, a South Korean Joint Chief of Staff spokesman said.
South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said yesterday that the country was pursuing a “peaceful and gradual” reunification with North Korea, dismissing speculation that the South might be seeking to absorb its impoverished neighbor.