SEOUL • Tens of thousands of South Korean and United States troops yesterday commenced a military exercise simulating an all-out North Korean attack, as Pyongyang matched Seoul in resuming a loudspeaker propaganda campaign across their heavily fortified border.
The annual Ulchi Freedom exercise, which will run through Aug 28, is largely computer-simulated, but still involves 50,000 South Korean and 30,000 US soldiers.
The drill plays out a full-scale invasion scenario by nuclear-armed North Korea and both Seoul and Washington insist it remains purely defensive in nature.
Pyongyang views Ulchi Freedom - with other annual South Korea-US drills - as wilfully provocative and had threatened the "strongest military counter-action" should this year's exercise go ahead.
"Such large-scale joint military exercises... are little short of a declaration of a war," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which oversees cross-border issues, said last week.
The committee specifically warned of the drill's potential for an accidental military clash that could trigger an "all-out" conflict.
Military tensions are already running high along the Korean peninsula after South Korea blamed the North for landmine blasts that maimed members of a border patrol earlier this month.
The South retaliated by resuming high-decibel propaganda broadcasts across the border, using loudspeakers that had been silent for more than a decade. North Korea has denied any involvement in the mine blasts and threatened "indiscriminate" strikes against South Korean border units unless the broadcasts were halted immediately.
But Seoul's defence ministry reported yesterday that Pyongyang had resumed its own loudspeaker propaganda campaign at a site on the eastern section of the border.
The two Koreas had blasted propaganda messages at each other for many years before the practice was discontinued by mutual agreement in 2004 during a period of rapprochement.
The rising tensions topped the agenda of a National Security Council meeting convened and chaired yesterday morning by the South's President Park Geun Hye.
"We need to maintain a strong military readiness to protect our people's lives and their properties from North Korea's provocations," President Park told a Cabinet meeting afterwards.