South Korea and US to hold joint military exercise

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The Independent Online

South Korea plans to hold a joint military exercise with the United States later this month.

South Korea said today it plans to hold a joint military exercise with the United States later this month.

The annual weeklong Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration, or RSOI, exercise beginning on April 20 comes amid a slowing of the reconciliation process with North Korea an escalation in anti–US rhetoric from the communist state.

South Korea and the United States characterized past military exercises as defensive but North Korea denounced them as a rehearsal for a northward invasion.

North Korea has shunned engagement with the South in recent months, jeopardizing a process that blossomed last year following a historic inter–Korean summit in June.

Seoul officials think the North's move may be a protest campaign against tougher talk by the new US government of President George W Bush.

"The RSOI is a routine, regularly scheduled exercise unrelated to any current or specific world events," the US military command in Seoul said in a statement.

"It is not designed to be provocative or threatening," it said.

South Korea's Defence Ministry said it tried to inform North Korea of the planned exercise through its liaison office at the border village of Panmunjom, but calls went unanswered.

The exercise, an annual event since 1994, is largely a computer–simulated war–game and will involve about 10,000 South Korean and US troops, it said.

South Korea and the United States say they need joint military exercises to prepare for a possible North Korean invasion of the South.

In congressional testimony in Washington in March, Gen Thomas Schwartz, the US military commander in South Korea, said North Korea's 1.1 million–member military is better equipped than ever for a war with the South.

About 37,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea. The United States fought on South Korea's side during the 1950–53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.