North Korea proposes suspension of military hostilities

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea on Monday proposed that the two Koreas halt hostile military activities from later this week - an apparent show of its desire for peace before a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The surprise suggestion from the North's top military body, the National Defence Commission (NDC), was made hours after Pyongyang confirmed its second missile test in recent days.

"Let's show all Koreans and the world a resolute decision to completely stop all military hostile acts of pushing the North-South relations to the brink of a war," the commission said in a statement reported by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The North is ready to suspend all acts of verbal provocation and slander from Friday, and urged the South to reciprocate, it said.

Earlier this year Seoul dismissed a similar North Korean overture as a "deceptive" propaganda exercise.

The NDC statement also called for an end to live-fire drills and other hostile military activities near the Koreas' disputed border in the Yellow Sea - a frequent flashpoint - from Friday.

There have been no direct military clashes at the maritime border since 2010, but the two sides intermittently fire warning shots there and engage in live-fire drills.

The North also urged the South to scrap its annual joint military exercises with the United States slated for August, to create a favourable mood for this year's Asian Games in the South Korean city of Incheon.

Pyongyang has promised to send athletes to the games, to be held from September 19 to October 4.

Mr Xi is visiting Seoul on Thursday and Friday for talks with President Park Geun-Hye before going on to Pyongyang.

China is North Korea's sole major ally and key economic benefactor, and the fact that Xi is visiting Seoul first has been seen by some as a deliberate snub.

Despite its leverage, an increasingly frustrated China has failed to persuade the North to curb its nuclear weapons programme and to stop raising regional tensions through missile and atomic tests.

The NDC's statement urged Seoul not to take issue with the North's nuclear weapons, calling them a "valuable" asset.

"We courteously advise them not to resort any longer to such harmful acts as taking issue with the DPRK's nuclear deterrence," it said.

With Mr Xi and Ms Park expected to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear weapons, the North's ruling party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, lashed out at efforts to curb its nuclear ambitions as a "stupid fantasy".

Pyongyang announced separately Monday that it will put two detained American tourists on trial on charges including "perpetrating hostile acts". KCNA said suspicions about such acts had been confirmed by evidence and their testimony.

The North's latest olive branch followed a series of missile launches, including Sunday's test-launch of two short-range Scud missiles overseen by its leader Kim Jong-Un.

A KCNA report was unclear about the type of missile, but the South's military said Sunday's test was of two Scud missiles with a range of about 500 kilometres (300 miles).

A few days earlier, a similar North Korean report had hailed the test of a "cutting-edge" guided missile as a "breakthrough" in its military capability.

The North carries out regular missile tests, sometimes for technical reasons but often to register its displeasure with events elsewhere.