This handout photo taken on Nov 9, 2018 and provided by Seoul’s Defense Ministry shows ROK soldiers saluting as they withdraw from a border guard post at an undisclosed area in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas. (SOUTH KOREAN DEFENSE MINISTRY / AFP)
SEOUL – The Republic of Korea's resumption of small-scale military drills with the United States violated a recent agreement aimed at lowering tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s state media said on Monday.
The statement came as the ROK, the DPRK and the United Nations (UN) Command held follow-up talks to disarm the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the inter-Korean border and the ROK army started demolishing guard posts inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
It's (ROK-US military drill) an anachronistic military move to openly hold war drills aimed at others while the United States naval forces residing in Japan are also participating.
Rodong Sinmun newspaper
About 500 US and ROK marines began military drills last week that were among joint exercises indefinitely suspended in June as Seoul and Washington focused on engaging with the DPRK.
The Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP) violated a Sept 19 agreement signed by DPRK and ROK that called for a halt to "all hostile acts," said DPRK newspaper Rodong Sinmun.
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The joint two-week drills are "directly against the inter-Korean military agreement that promised to eliminate practical threats of war and fundamental hostile relations from the Korean peninsula," the newspaper said.
A spokesman for ROK defense ministry rejected the criticism the same day, saying they are defensive exercises involving small units under the size of a battalion.
The DPRK called off a planned meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York last week "because they weren't ready," US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Friday.
The DPRK’s Chosun Sinbo website reported that the talks could still be productive.
The biggest combat-readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan also went ahead last week, with the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan joining Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship in the ocean off Japan.
"It's an anachronistic military move to openly hold war drills aimed at others while the United States naval forces residing in Japan are also participating," Rodong Sinmun said.
ROK-DPRK-UN COMMAND MEETING
The ROK-DPRK-UN Command trilateral talks began at 10 am local time (0100 GMT) at the Freedom House, a ROK Korean building in the border village of Panmunjom.
As the disarmament of the JSA inside the DMZ was completed in late October, the three parties would discuss ways to adjust surveillance equipment and share information.
On Oct 25, the ROK and the DPRK completed the pullout of firearms, ammunition and guard posts from the JSA, and the two Koreas and the UN Command conducted a joint verification for it later.
In this Nov 11, 2018 photo, ROK Air Force cargo planes carrying boxes of tangerines, are seen before taking off for the DPRK at the Jeju International Airport on Jeju Island, in the ROK. South Korea has airlifted thousands of boxes of tangerines to the DPRK in return for its large shipments of pine mushrooms in September. (PARK JI-HO/YONHAP VIA AP)
The JSA disarmament was agreed upon in the Sept 19 military agreement, which was signed by defense chiefs of the two Koreas during the Pyongyang summit in September between ROK President Moon Jae-in and top DPRK leader Kim Jong-un.
For the sentry duty, 35 unarmed soldiers would be stationed each by the ROK and the DPRK in the JSA.
DEMOLITION OF GUARD POSTS
The ROK army on Monday started demolishing guard posts inside the DMZ, which has left the Korean Peninsula divided since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with armistice, on a trial basis.
It was part of efforts to implement the Sept 19 military agreement.
The ROK and the DPRK on Sunday completed the withdrawal of firearms, equipment and soldiers from 11 guard posts each along the inter-Korean border on a trial basis, according to Seoul's defense ministry.
The two sides agreed to reserve one guard post each.
After the demolition works, expected to be completed by November, the two sides will conduct a verification process in December.
JOINT SURVEY OF ROAD
The two Koreas also started working-level talks Monday to schedule the joint survey of roads across the inter-Korean border to modernize and eventually connect cross-border roads.
Local media quoted an ROK unification ministry official as saying that the talks began at 10 am local time (0100 GMT) at the inter-Korean liaison office in the DPRK's border town of Kaesong.
The two sides are expected to discuss schedule to conduct a joint survey of roads along the eastern Korean Peninsula and other various issues, according to Seoul's unification ministry.
HONG KONG NEWS