SEOUL — South Korea kicked off its annual joint military exercises with the United States on Monday, despite vocal opposition from North Korea which could threaten a recent upswing in cross-border ties.
The start of this year's drills overlaps with the first reunion for more than three years of families divided by the Korea War – an event that has raised hopes of greater North-South co-operation.
Pyongyang had initially insisted that the joint exercises be postponed until after the reunion finishes on Tuesday, but Seoul refused and – in a rare concession – the North allowed the family gathering to go ahead as scheduled.
The annual "Key Resolve" and "Foal Eagle" drills – routinely condemned by North Korea as rehearsals for invasion – will last until April 18 and involve a combined total of 12,700 US troops and many more from South Korea.
"Key Resolve" lasts just over a week and is a largely computer-simulated exercise, while the eight-week "Foal Eagle" drill involves air, ground and naval field training.
Seoul and Washington insist they are both defensive in nature, playing out various North Korean invasion scenarios.
US defence official have indicated – in an apparent effort to mollify the North – that this year's drills will be slightly toned down, with no aircraft carrier and no strategic bombers.
However, South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok insisted on Monday that there would be "no readjustment" in the scale of the manoeuvres. — AFP