Seoul: North Korea`s top military body today lashed out at an ongoing South Korea-US army drill, warning that it could compromise a recent easing of military tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The criticism from the North`s National Defence Commission marked the first high-level rebuke of the 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint exercise, which ends tomorrow.
Pyongyang`s unusual silence over an annual drill that it habitually condemns as a war rehearsal had been attributed to ongoing North-South talks on a number of cross-border projects.
Today`s statement was forthright but lacked the bellicose rhetoric of similar denunciations issued during the heightened tensions of March and April.
The powerful commission, chaired by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, accused South Korea and the United States of playing "a dangerous war game" and making provocative "nuclear threats" towards Pyongyang.
"The hard-won mood of reconciliation is now faced with a grave challenge posed by... The US and South governments that haven`t shed their old-fashioned confrontational approach," it said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise practises a joint response to a North Korean invasion. Although largely played out on computers, it involves more than 80,000 South Korean and US troops.
The North`s muted response to the drill, which started at the beginning of last week, reflected progress in cross-border talks on a number of key issues.
The two Koreas recently agreed to work together to reopen their shuttered Kaesong industrial complex and to hold a family reunion event for those separated during the Korean War.
But Pyongyang was frustrated this week by Seoul`s lukewarm response to its proposal for parallel talks on resuming South Korean tours to its Mount Kumgang resort, a source of badly-needed hard currency.
The Seoul-invested resort was closed in 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier.
North Korea was also angered by South Korea`s hosting last week of a UN Commission of Inquiry into the North`s human rights record.
Pyongyang described North Korean defectors who provided harrowing testimony to the commission as "human scum" manipulated by the South`s authorities.
"There is a limit to our magnanimity and patience," the defence commission warned today.