Seoul: The US and South Korea on Sunday began a
major naval exercise in the Sea of Japan, a report said, a move which has sparked warnings of nuclear retaliation from North Korea.
The drill is the first in a series intended "to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behaviour must stop", US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and South`s
Defence Minister Kim Tae-Young said in a joint statement this week after talks.
South Korea and the United States, citing findings of a
multinational investigation, accuse the North of sending a
submarine to torpedo a South Korean warship near the tense
Yellow Sea border in March.
The communist North denies involvement in the sinking of
the Cheonan, which claimed 46 lives.
The US-led United Nations Command said the four-day drill
would involve about 20 ships, including the aircraft carrier
USS George Washington, and some 200 fixed-wing aircraft.
It said 8,000 service personnel from the two allies were
to take part in the show of force, which began early today,
according to the Yonhap news agency.
Seoul`s defence ministry has said the drill had been
relocated from the sensitive Yellow Sea (West Sea) to the Sea
of Japan (East Sea) in deference to Chinese protests.
But future drills will be held in both seas.
North Korea has denounced the exercise as "very dangerous
sabre-rattling" and yesterday threatened to respond with
Pyongyang routinely threatens war in response to joint
military exercises by the two long-time allies, calling them a
rehearsal for war.
"All these war manoeuvres are nothing but outright
provocations aimed to stifle the Democratic People`s Republic
of Korea by force of arms to all intents and purposes," the
North`s National Defence Commission said in a statement on
Pyongyang`s official news agency.
"The army and people of the DPRK will legitimately
counter with their powerful nuclear deterrence the largest-
ever nuclear war exercises to be staged by the US and the
South Korean puppet forces."
The exercise "is as reckless an act as waking up a
sleeping tiger", it said.
In response to the warnings, Washington called on North
Korea to tone down its "provocative" statements.
"We are not interested in a war of words with North
Korea," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. "What
we need from North Korea is fewer provocative words and more