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NUCLEAR WAR

North Korea says US-South Korea drills push tension to ‘brink of nuclear war’

North Korea says US-South Korea drills push tension to ‘brink of nuclear war’
A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (2-R) observing a cruise missile exercise conducted in Jakdo-dong, South Hamgyong Province, North Korea, 22 March 2023 (issued 24 March 2023). According to North Korean state media, the test involved two Hwasai-1 and two Hwasai-2 strategic cruise missiles, equipped with a 'test warhead simulating a nuclear warhead.' EPA-EFE/KCNA

SEOUL, April 6 (Reuters) - North Korea accused the U.S. and South Korea of escalating tensions to the brink of nuclear war through their joint military drills, vowing to respond with "offensive action", state media KCNA reported on Thursday.

KCNA released a commentary by Choe Ju Hyon, whom it called an international security analyst, criticising the exercises as “a trigger for driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the point of explosion”.

“The reckless military confrontational hysteria of the U.S. and its followers against the DPRK is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to an irreversible catastrophe … to the brink of a nuclear war,” the article said.

It was using the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

U.S. and South Korean forces have been conducting a series of annual springtime exercises since March, including air and sea drills involving a U.S. aircraft carrier and B-1B and B-52 bombers, and their first large-scale amphibious landing drills in five years.

The commentary singled out the aircraft carrier’s participation as aimed at stoking confrontation, saying Pyongyang will respond to the drills by exercising its war deterrence through “offensive action”.

“The drills have turned the Korean peninsula into a huge powder magazine which can be detonated any moment,” it added.

North Korea has reacted furiously to the exercises, calling them a rehearsal for invasion.

It has been ramping up its military activity in recent weeks, unveiling new, smaller nuclear warheads, firing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking anywhere in the U.S. and testing what it called a nuclear-capable underwater attack drone.

South Korea’s nuclear envoy held talks with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts and condemned those tests, saying the North will pay the price for its provocations, Seoul’s foreign ministry said following their meetings in Seoul on Thursday.

The envoys agreed to step up efforts to stem the North’s illegal cyber activities including theft of virtual currencies and hacking, it added.

Japan’s nuclear envoy also “strongly condemned” North Korea’s “unprecedented frequency and manner” of ballistic missile launches as a serious and imminent threat to regional security, Japan’s foreign ministry said.

In a separate KCNA dispatch, Han Tae Song, permanent representative at North Korea’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, strongly denounced an annual resolution adopted this week by the U.N. Human Rights Council on the country’s rights situation.

Pyongyang has long rejected international criticism of its human rights as a U.S.-led plot to overthrow its regime.

Han called the resolution an “intolerable act of political provocation and hostility” and “the most heavily politicised document of fraud”.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has called for raising awareness over Pyongyang’s rights abuses.

In its first publicly released report on the situation last week, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said North Korea executes its citizens for drugs, sharing South Korean media and religious activities.

The ministry which handles inter-Korea affairs on Thursday criticised North Korea for using South Korean assets at a now-closed joint factory park in the North.

North Korean state media photos published on Wednesday showed a South Korean bus, used to transport workers before the North unilaterally shut the park in 2016, running in Pyongyang.

The ministry said it tried to warn against using the factory equipment without approval via a border hotline, but the North refused to take its message.

By Hyonhee Shin

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo and Soo-hyang Choi in Seoul; Editing by Richard Chang, Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie)

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