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USFK commander vows vigilance against North's missile launches

All Headlines 15:43 July 27, 2014

PANMUNJOM, Korea, July 27 (Yonhap) -- The commander of U.S. Forces Korea on Sunday condemned North Korea's recent spate of missile and rocket launches that sharply stoked regional tension, pledging vigilance against the communist state's weapons program to deter potential threat.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti made the remark during his visit to the truce village of Panmunjom where he celebrated the 61st anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

His trip to the heavily fortified demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas came amid heightened tensions on the peninsula as Pyongyang has staged a series of rocket and ballistic missile firing despite international outcry.

<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20140727002400320_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command, speaks during a ceremony celebrating the 61st anniversary of signing the 1950-53 Korean Armistice held at the truce village of Panmunjom on July 27, 2014. (Yonhap)'/>

Scaparrotti, who also heads the United Nations Command (UNC) and Combined Forces Command (CFC), said North Korea's missile launches are a clear violation of U.N. resolutions that ban its ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests.

"Their continued opposition and defiance of the U.N. Security Council resolutions as well as the international community norms ... (are) not acceptable and further isolate them from the international community," Scaparrotti told reporters after a ceremony held at the Freedom House in the South Korean part of Panmunjom. "We will remain vigilant ... to secure this country."

Scaparrotti also criticized Pyongyang's test-firing without imposing no-fly, no-sail zones near expected trajectories, saying it goes against international regulations and poses serious threats to civilians.

"Just last night, there was another Scud firing. And I pointed out that it is not only the violation of the UNSC resolutions but (also) endangers the safety of innocent people both at sea and in the air because there were no notice issued by North Korea," Scaparrotti said. "We, the UNC and CFC, will constantly monitor this, and we will change our posture so that we ensure that we can secure the Republic of Korea."

On Sunday, Pyongyang's state media said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guided a rocket firing drill pointed at U.S. forces based in South Korea on the eve of the armistice day, which it celebrates as "Victory Day of Fatherland Liberation War."

Saturday's firing is the 15th time that the North has launched rockets this year, and sixth ballistic missile launch in 2014.

In face of Washington's continued security pledge on the peninsula, the North's Korean Central News Agency said U.S. has not changed its hostile policy and warned "a final ruin" to "whoever dares challenge" the Pyongyang regime.

Scaparrotti said consultations are currently under way to decide whether to keep the combined command structure as it is even after Seoul regains its wartime operational control (OPCON) to ensure a strong joint posture, without elaborating details.

"As we work through negotiations on the OPCON transition and that delay, our governments are working together on what's the best posture for all of our command and control here and in the ROK (Republic of Korea)-U.S. alliance," Scaparrotti said. "So that is under consideration, but again both nations work hard at this and simply my intent is to come up with the best posture for the security of this country."

South Korea handed over control of its armed forces to the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War to defend against invading troops from North Korea. Peacetime control of its forces was returned in 1994, and South Korea is scheduled to get back the wartime control in December 2015.

But last year, Seoul asked for a delay in the wartime OPCON transition after the communist North conducted its third nuclear test. The allies agreed to announce the timing of the OPCON transfer in a bilateral defense meeting slated for October in Washington.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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