South Korea scoffs at North call on insults, refuses to scrap US drills

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea on Friday scoffed at North Korea's proposal for a moratorium on verbal mud-slinging between the two rivals, and rejected Pyongyang's renewed calls to scrap joint military drills with the United States.

The annual joint exercises - which the North routinely condemns as provocative rehearsals for invasion - will go ahead as scheduled from the end of February, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui Do told reporters.

"Our military exercises are routine annual defensive drills, like those conducted by all sovereign states," Mr Kim said.

Last year's exercises 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 war against the South and the United States.

This time around, North Korea appears to be adopting a carrot-and-stick policy, one day warning of "an unimaginable holocaust" if the drills go ahead and the next offering a mutual end to "all acts of provoking and slandering." The latter proposal, which came as something of a surprise, was made late Thursday by the North's top military body, the National Defence Commission (NDC), which also reiterated the need to cancel the upcoming military manoeuvres.

The South's Unification Ministry brushed the proposal aside, saying the only slander and provocation came from the North's side.

"We don't slander North Korea so there is nothing for us to stop," spokesman Kim said.

If the North truly wants to foster peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, it should stop complaining about the "legitimate" South Korea-US military drills and focus on taking steps to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, he added.

Mr Kim also reiterated South Korean President Park Geun-Hye's recent call for the "humanitarian" resumption of reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The North rejected Park's proposal, citing the planned South-US exercises as a major barrier.

Analysts said both sides were jockeying for the moral high ground ahead of what is gearing up to be a re-run of last year's display of military brinksmanship, which triggered global concerns of a full-scale conflict.

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