(ATTN: ADDS reaction from defense ministry, more info in paras 6-8)
SEOUL, May 8 (Yonhap) -- North Korea lashed out at South Korea on Friday for conducting military exercises in and above the Yellow Sea, calling it a "total denial" of an inter-Korean military tension reduction agreement.
In a statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the spokesperson for the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces denounced the joint Navy-Air Force drills as "the height of the military confrontation."
"The recent joint drill was staged in the air and sea in the biggest hotspot area in the West Sea of Korea in which military conflicts occurred between the North and the South in the past, and it was openly launched, assuming there were a 'strange sign' and 'provocation' from us," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the recent exercises are bringing the inter-Korean relationship back to where it was before the reconciliatory summit between the two Koreas in 2018.
"What merits more attention is that the South Korean military staged the said military drill while calling us their 'enemy,'" the spokesperson said, warning that the "grave provocation" cannot be overlooked and will be met with "a necessary reaction from us."
South Korea's defense ministry denied any violation of the military agreement.
"The joint exercise was a defense training conducted in the western waters off Gunsan. It was carried out in compliance with the Sept. 19 agreement," a ministry official said, referring to the inter-Korean deal reached in 2018. Gunsan is located some 270 kilometers south of Seoul.
Under the deal, the two Koreas set a maritime buffer zone spanning around 80 km in the East Sea and 135 km in the West Sea to prevent unintended naval clashes, and agreed to suspend artillery firing and naval drills in the area.
In a rare move, the statement was also carried by the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party intended for the North's domestic audience.
North Korea usually publishes its statements criticizing South Korea through media outlets directed toward the foreign audience, such as KCNA.
"It is rare for a statement to be published in the Rodong Sinmun. It appears to be an emphasis on (their) message," Yoh Sang-key, the unification ministry's spokesperson, said in a press briefing Friday.
South Korea staged a joint military drill in the Yellow Sea on Wednesday with the Navy's 2nd Fleet. Some 20 fighter jets, including the F-15K, KF-16, F-4E and FA-50, took part in the exercise.
Remarks by N.K. leader's sister dim prospects of Trump-Kim meeting before Nov. U.S. election
N.K. seeks to distract from domestic hardships with liaison office demolition: experts
N. Korea voices frustration over ties, seeks to close ranks through S. Korea bashing: experts
Landslide victory likely to strengthen Moon's foreign policy hand
Nuclear talks in limbo one year after no-deal Hanoi summit