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(LEAD) N. Korea denounces upcoming military exercises in S. Korea in message to U.S. commander

All Headlines 15:29 February 23, 2013

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details, background)

SEOUL, Feb. 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Saturday it sent a message to the top American military commander in South Korea, warning that upcoming joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. would amount to "igniting a war" on the divided Korean Peninsula.

Pak Rim-su, the North Korean military's representative at the truce village of Panmunjom, sent the telephone message to Gen. James Thurman, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, saying the peninsula is facing "a grave situation where a war may break out any moment," according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

"If your side ignites a war of aggression by staging the reckless joint military exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle again under the cover of 'defensive and annual ones' at this dangerous time, from that moment your fate will be hung by a thread with every hour," said the message in English.

"You had better bear in mind that those igniting a war are destined to meet a miserable destruction while a great victory is in store for the guardians of justice," it said, according to the KCNA.

Pak also accused "the U.S. and its allied forces" of attempting to "isolate and stifle" the North, "taking issue with its just satellite launch and underground nuclear test for protecting its sovereignty," according to the KCNA.

Pyongyang conducted a long-range rocket launch in December and its third nuclear test earlier this month in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, sparking widespread international condemnations.

North Korea has issued such harsh rhetoric ahead of military exercises in South Korea, denouncing them as a rehearsal for an invasion of the communist nation. Seoul and Washington have repeatedly said the drills are purely defensive in nature.

South Korea and the U.S. plan to hold two sets of military drills next month.

The Key Resolve drills, set for March 11-25, are largely computer-simulated maneuvers aimed at improving combat capabilities to deter threats from the North. The exercises will also involve about 10,000 South Korean and 3,500 American troops to test various scenarios.

Foal Eagle exercises, planned for March 1 to April 30, are a field tactical training that will mobilize about 200,000 Korean and 10,000 American troops, mostly from overseas, and include a set of land, sea and air maneuvers.
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