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S Korea to announce joint military drill plan with US before April

North threatens consequences if postponed joint exercises go ahead

SEOUL: South Korea and the United States will announce plans before April for a postponed joint military drill, South Korea's defence minister said yesterday.

Seoul and Washington had agreed to postpone the regular joint military exercise until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympics being hosted in South Korea, which end on March 18.

After the decision to delay the joint exercise, North Korea agreed to hold the first official talks with South Korea in more than two years and to send athletes to the Winter Games, easing a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

Asked when the two countries will hold the postponed drill, South Korean Defence Minister Song Young Moo told parliament he and US Secretary of State Jim Mattis would make an announcement between March 18 and the start of April.

"The exercise was postponed according to the spirit of the Olympics," Mr Song said.

"We have agreed to uphold the basis until after the Paralympics... and not to confirm nor deny anything regarding what we would do after that until we announce it".

Mr Song added that inter-Korean talks had not come about as a direct result of the postponed drill.

Pyongyang has warned it would not sit idle if the US and South Korea go ahead with the postponed military exercises.

MISSILE TESTS

North Korea denounces these drills as preparations to invade, and it has at times conducted missile tests or taken other aggressive action in response.

The South Korean and US militaries usually hold exercises in March and April, which can involve as many as 17,000 US troops and more than 300,000 South Koreans.

A restart of the joint drill is an "act of ruthlessly trampling even a small sprout of peace that has been now seen on the Korean peninsula", the North's official KCNA news agency said in a commentary on Monday.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have eased since last year resulting in inter-Korean talks and the North sending a high-level delegation led by Ms Kim Yo Jong, the sister of leader Kim Jong Un, and athletes to the Winter Olympics.

South Korea has also floated the idea of co-hosting the 2021 Asian Winter Games with North Korea, and a North Korean official said this may be possible, the South's Yonhap news agency reported.

North Korea may make its Masikryong ski resort available for the Games, said Mr Chang Ung, the North's representative on the International Olympic Committee.

The host city for the 2021 event has not yet been decided.

Mr Chang, who was in China, told a Yonhap reporter in Beijing yesterday that it would be easier for the two sides to co-host the Asian Winter Games because there is less competition to host the event, than there is for the Olympics. - REUTERS

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