N. Korea threatens pre-emptive nuke strike over Seoul’s military drill

North Korea on Monday threatened to mount a "preemptive nuclear strike" on South Korea and the United States as the allies kicked off their annual military exercise aimed at countering Pyongyang's potential aggression.

The command and control exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian began its two-week run on Monday, involving tens of thousands of South Korean and U.S. forces.

This year's drill came amid heightened inter-Korean tension following Pyongyang's nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch in the following month. The latest defection of a London-based North Korean senior diplomat to South Korea has further added to cross-border tension.

South Korea and the U.S. "should bear in mind that if they show the slightest sign of aggression on (DPRK's) inviolable land, seas and air ..., it would turn the stronghold of provocation into a heap of ashes through Korean-style preemptive nuclear strike," an English-language statement by the country's General Staff of the Korean People's Army (KPA), carried by the state-run Korean Central News agency, said.

"They should properly know that from this moment the first-strike combined units of the KPA keep themselves fully ready to mount a preemptive retaliatory strike at all enemy attack groups involved in Ulchi Freedom Guardian," the KCNA report said.

DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

The statement said the exercise is "a clear manifestation of a vicious plot" to deprive the DPRK's army of their cradle by force of arms.

"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is so tense that a nuclear war may break out any moment," it also claimed.

It is the resolute determination and will of North Korea "to terminate the ever more reckless moves of the U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces for a nuclear war not temporarily but indefinitely," the latest statement said.

The statement said the KPA's stances were made "upon authorization," indicating that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was behind the issuance of the latest threat.

The North's foreign ministry also issued a statement in which it said that the joint exercise is a "grave military provocation and poses a challenge to regional peace and stability."

The statement carried by the KCNA called the drill an "unpardonable criminal act of pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a war" by bringing "U.S. nuclear strategic bombers, THAAD and other strategic assets into the peninsula and its vicinity."

North Korea has long denounced the joint military drill as a rehearsal for a northward invasion, a charge denied by Seoul and Washington.

South Korea's unification ministry expressed strong regret over the North's threat, saying that the military exercise has been regularly waged and is defensive in nature.

"It is regrettable that North Korea threatens to conduct a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the South," Jeong Joon-hee, ministry spokesman, said at a regular press briefing. "North Korea should suspend its nuclear and missile programs and make the right choice."

South Korea's government, meanwhile, warned over the weekend that it is highly likely that the North may carry out some sort of provocation during or after the ongoing military exercise that comes days after Seoul confirmed the defection of a North Korean embassy official last week.

It also said that the North's leader has ordered the dispatch of security agents to the country's areas bordering China in a bid to attack South Koreans in the wake of the rare group defection to Seoul by 13 North Korean staff working at a Pyongyang-run restaurant in China.

"The government advises South Koreans living in foreign countries and those who are staying overseas to be mindful of their safety," Jeong said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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