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(LEAD) S. Korea, Japan temporarily halt military exchange programs: paper

All Headlines 19:13 September 02, 2012

(ATTN: UPDATES with South Korean military's drill in 12-15 paras)

SEOUL/TOKYO, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Japan have temporarily suspended planned military exchange programs between the sides, a Japanese newspaper reported Sunday, in the wake of worsening public sentiment over a continued territorial stand-off.

Exchanges between the Japanese and South Korean militaries have deepened in recent years, but bilateral relations between the two nations have soured quickly after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made an unprecedented visit to the easternmost islets of Dokdo on Aug. 10.

Tokyo proposed Seoul refer the issue of Dokdo to the International Court of Justice, but Seoul rejected its proposal saying it is "not worth consideration."

Japan's daily Asahi Shimbun said Self-Defense Forces (SDF) had planned to invite officers from the South Korean Air Force's southern combat command to Japan from Monday through Thursday, but Seoul has suddenly sent a notice that its officials will not take part in the program.

South Korean Navy officers in charge of education and training had been invited to visit Japan on Monday, but the plan was also called off, the paper said.

"South Korea notified the cancellation of some military exchanges considering public sentiment," Asahi said citing a Japanese military source.

No decision has yet been made on a planned visit to Japan on Sept. 10 by the commander of the South Korean Navy's 1st Fleet for meetings with Japanese officials and an Air Force training program for high-ranking commanders scheduled for Sept. 18, the paper said.

Seoul's defense ministry said the government is reviewing some of the planned military exchange programs considering the worsening sentiment against Japan.

"A readjustment of S. Korea-Japan military exchange programs is currently under way to fit mutual needs," a senior ministry official said, asking anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. "But it doesn't mean military exchanges between the nations have come to a full stop."

According to officials, it seems unlikely that senior defense exchanges will resume until diplomatic rows between the two nations cool down.

Senior defense exchanges have been effectively put on hold after Seoul shelved a military information sharing pact in June after the government faced strong public backlash over the controversial deal with the former colonial ruler. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin's planned visit to Japan in May was also canceled.

Meanwhile, South Korea's military said it will go ahead with a four-day biannual military drill in waters near Dokdo from Sept. 7-11.

"As the Dokdo defense drill has been regularly carried out, it will be held as planned," a senior military official said. "It is aimed at repelling a vessel that has illegally approached Dokdo, which is our (South Korean) territory."

The defense drills will be carried out under a scenario in which the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard conduct a joint operation to repel a vessel that has invaded territorial waters near Dokdo, according to officials.

The last such drill was held in February.

Dokdo, which lies closer to South Korea in the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, has long been a thorn in bilateral relations. South Korea keeps a small police detachment on the islets, effectively controlling them.


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