South Korea and the US launched joint drills yesterday involving thousands of troops, defying North Korea’s apocalyptic threat to repudiate the 60-year-old Korean War armistice in retaliation.
The start of the two-week “Key Resolve” exercise follows a week of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea also threatening nuclear war over UN sanctions adopted after its third atomic test last month.
Pyongyang has condemned the annual joint maneuvers as a provocative invasion rehearsal and announced that — effective yesterday — it was scrapping the 1953 armistice and voiding non-aggression treaties signed with the South.
The South’s Unification Ministry confirmed that the North appeared to have carried through on another promise to cut a telephone hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul.
“The North did not answer our call this morning,” a ministry spokeswoman said.
The hotline was installed in 1971 and the North has severed it on five occasions in the past — most recently in 2010.
In a dispatch late yesterday from its official news agency KCNA, North Korea restated its view that the armistice, “which has existed for form’s sake, would be completely invalid from March 11.”
The US-South Korean wargames are “bringing the dark clouds of a nuclear war to hang over the Korean Peninsula,” KCNA added, while vowing that North Korea’s armed forces were ready for an “all-out action.”
Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling communist party, said that with “the ceasefire agreement blown apart ... no one can predict what will happen from now on.”
Voiding the armistice theoretically paves the way for a resumption of hostilities, as the two Koreas never signed a formal peace treaty and remain technically at war.
“The North is giving the impression it wants to put things back to where they were 60 years ago,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.