A JOINT military exercise between South Korea and the United States, aimed at defending against a North Korean invasion, has been reduced this year because of the growing mood of reconciliation between Seoul and Pyongyang.
Yesterday, South Korean and American troops embarked on the 12- day Operation Ulchi Focus Lens, a computer simulation that also involves bases in Hawaii and mainland USA. But large-scale open-air exercises have been cancelled after the success of the June summit between the leaders of North and South Korea, and last week's emotional reunion of families separated by the Cold War confrontation between the two countries.
This is the first time that either side has taken clear steps to reduce military tension on the peninsula, where almost two million armed men confront each another across a border thick with barbed wire, minefields and tank traps.
The South Korean President, Kim Dae Jung, said yesterday: "We need a tight security posture to ensure peace. But we must also make efforts not to ruin the reconciliatory mood which has finally emerged on the peninsula."
The South Korean-American war games take place every year, and each time they provoke a furious and sometimes bellicose response in the state-controlled North Korean media. The Korean Central News Agency said at the weekend: "If the South Korean authorities truly want improved North-South relations and peace on the Korean peninsula, they should take a step to cancel the large-scale joint military drill against the North. …