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South Korean army soldiers stand guard at a gate of the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 27 Ahn Young-joon/AP/Press Association Images

US and South Korea engage in joint military drills

South Korea and the US insist the annual drills are defensive in nature – but the North has threatened to wage a “sacred war”.

THE UNITED STATES and South Korean have begun joint military drills, despite threats from the North about a possible retaliation.

The US military has brought more than 2,000 troops to the South for the annual drill, known as Key Resolve. South Korea has said that the exercises are defensive in nature and are due to continue until 9 March, Al Jazeera reports.

North Korea has called the drills unacceptable and has threatened to wage a “sacred war” in response. It claimed  the exercises go beyond those previously held on the peninsula, and instead “envisage a pre-emptive attack on North Korea”.

However, in a statement the US military said that the exercises were not on breach of the armistice agreement signed at the end of the Korean War, and added that they would be monitored by observers, the BBC reports.

On Saturday, US envoy Glyn Davies told reporters in Seoul that he made it clear to North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan in a meeting in Beijing last week that North Korea should improve its relations with South Korea before Pyongyang and Washington can improve their relationship.

The meeting, aimed at restarting stalled international nuclear disarmament talks, was the first since Kim’s father and longtime leader Kim Jong Il died in December. Kim Jong Un has quickly taken over power by assuming a slew of prominent titles previously held by his father.

North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim met with China’s chief nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, and Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun separately on Saturday to discuss the stalled six-nation nuclear talks, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Further details were not disclosed.

More than three years have passed since the last session of the six-nation talks, which involve the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia.

Additional reporting by the AP

South Korea carries out military drill as North threatens ‘merciless’ attack>

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