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S. Korea, US Begin Joint Military Exercises

South Korea and the United States began their joint annual military exercises in the Korean peninsula on Monday, ignoring the latest North Korean threat that it would launch a power retaliatory strike against South Korea if provoked.

The exercise known as 'Key Resolve' involves thousands of military personnel from both countries, including hundreds of additional U.S. troops freshly deployed to South Korea in connection with the drills.

More than 2,000 American military personnel are taking part in the exercises, including 800 U.S. troops based outside South Korea. The drills would be followed later this week by another round of joint military exercises called 'Foal Eagle.'

Although North Korea has described the joint drills an "unpardonable infringement" and threatened to launch a "sacred war" in retaliation, both South Korea and the U.S. insist that they are purely defensive in nature.

In an editorial published on Monday, the North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described the joint drill as "an unpardonable infringement upon the sovereignty and dignity" of the North. "The Army and people of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) are fully ready to fight a war," the editorial added.

The North's National Defense Commission on Saturday, denounced the joint military exercises as as a "silent declaration of war," and warned: "Our Army and people will foil the moves of the group of traitors to the nation and warmongers at home and abroad for a new war with a sacred war of our own style."

Also, the KCNA reported Saturday that North Korea's new leader Kim Jong un had ordered the country's military to "make a powerful retaliatory strike" if the joined drills trespassed into North's territory.

The international community has been keenly watching Kim Jong un, who took over the Communist regime after the death of his father Kim Jong-il. The young leader, believed to be in his late 20s, has since been made a four-star General and a key member of the ruling party.

The latest U.S.-S. Korea joint drills come just days after Seoul conducted live-fire military drills near its disputed maritime border with North Korea despite threats of retaliation from Pyongyang. Those drills took place near the islands of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong located just south of the tense Yellow Sea border with North Korea.

Tension is building up in the Korean Peninsula ever since the North allegedly torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel in March 2010 and the "unprovoked" shelling of the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong in November that year.

North blamed the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on South Korea's provocative actions and denied any involvement in the sinking of the frigate. However, an international investigation has since concluded that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for the incident.

South Korea and the United States have since conducted several joint military drills off the Korean peninsula to deter the North from committing any further provocative actions. In addition, Washington has reiterated its commitment to South Korea's security in case of any further threat from Pyongyang.

The two Koreas technically remain at war even now, as the Korean war ended in an armistice in 1953, and not a peace treaty. The war ended after the U.N. command, fighting on behalf of South Korea, signed the armistice with North Korea and China.

The joint exercises come just days after another round of nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States ended with "a little bit of progress" in Beijing on Friday. The talks are aimed at convincing the North to rejoin the currently stalled international aid-for-nuclear disarmament negotiations.

North Korea had pulled out of the Six-nation negotiations, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, in April 2009 despite agreeing in 2005 to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for aid during an earlier round of negotiations in Beijing.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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