S. Korea may temporarily suspend regular K-9 live-fire drills: sources

SEOUL, South Korea's military may temporarily suspend regular live-fire drills on western border islands in line with the April inter-Korean summit agreement to halt "all hostile acts," multiple sources said Monday.

The move would follow recent decisions by Seoul and Washington to indefinitely suspend the annual combined Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise and the Korea Marine Exercise Program drills, which were slated to kick off in August and next month, respectively.

Pyongyang has routinely condemned the exercises as invasion rehearsals or symbols of hostile policy towards it. Their suspension is part of efforts to facilitate dialogue on the communist state's denuclearization.

"I understand that the live-fire drills (designed to protect) the northwestern islands, which were slated for the latter half of this year, will be suspended temporarily," a source told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.

"Artillery drills near the frontline areas would run afoul of the spirit of the Panmunjom Declaration involving an agreement to halt all hostile acts," the source added.

Following the April 27 summit at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un adopted the declaration in which they agreed to improve cross-border ties, reduce military tensions and pursue a peace treaty and the "complete" denuclearization of the peninsula.

Each year, the Marine Corps has conducted the live-fire drills between July and August and between November and December to check its readiness posture and equipment. During the drills, the Air Force and Navy assets are also put on standby to prepare for Pyongyang's possible provocations.

The suspension of the drills has fueled concerns that it could weaken the allies' readiness posture and their deterrence capabilities. But hopes have also emerged that it could create opportunities for deeper engagement with the reclusive state.

"Even if the (live-ammunition) drills are suspended temporarily, the K-9 operators could move to rear areas for drills, or we can carry out simulated exercises on the frontline islands," a government source said, declining to be named.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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