N. Korea military tells South to cancel drills

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea's top military body on Thursday piled fresh pressure on South Korea to cancel planned military drills with the United States, even as Seoul insisted the exercises would go ahead.

In a statement carried by the North's official KCNA news agency, the National Defence Commission (NDC) called on the South to drop its "two-faced behaviour" and "stop the reckless act of bringing in dangerous US nuclear striking forces".

The language of the statement was less threatening than that used Wednesday by the North Korean state body in charge of inter-Korean affairs which had warned of an "unimaginable holocaust" if the joint drills went ahead.

The South Korea-US drills are conducted every year and are routinely condemned by the North as provocative rehearsals for invasion.

Last year, they were held in the wake of North Korea's third and largest nuclear test, and prompted months of escalated military tensions that saw Pyongyang issue apocalyptic threats of nuclear strikes against the South and the United States.

North-South Korean ties are currently in a state of watchful limbo, with both sides voicing willingness to improve relations while accusing the other of lacking sincerity.

The NDC statement proposed that both sides agree to suspend "all provocative activities" from January 30 in an effort to build trust.

Seoul is unlikely to consider the proposal after its defence ministry insisted earlier Thursday that the joint, large-scale exercises - known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle - would take place as scheduled beginning at the end of February.

"If North Korea commits military provocations by taking advantage of these routine exercises... the military will retaliate severely and firmly," ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told reporters.

Mr Kim also said North Korea would be better off taking "positive steps" towards addressing global concerns over its nuclear weapons programme than lecturing the South on its military drills.

Earlier this month, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye had called for the resumption of reunions for families separated by the Korean War.

But the North rejected the proposal, citing the planned South-US exercises as a major barrier.

There has been concern over the stability of the regime in Pyongyang after the execution of Jang Song-Thaek, a senior leader who was also the uncle and former political mentor of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Seoul and Washington have warned of possible provocation by the nuclear-armed North as it seeks to cement national unity following the purge.

The South's defence spokesman said "nothing out of the ordinary" had been detected in terms of military movement in the North, but added that Seoul was keeping "close tabs" on the situation.

The United States has based troops in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War and the force currently numbers 28,500.