March 8, 2009 / 9:19 PM / 11 years ago

N.Korea forces on alert for U.S.-S.Korea exercises

LONDON (Reuters) - North Korea’s military command has put its armed forces on full combat readiness to defend the country against any incursion by U.S. and South Korean forces due to start annual drills on Monday, the North’s news agency said.

The North Korean News Agency (KCNA), monitored in London, said on Sunday that the March 9-20 exercises would last twice as long as last year and were “extremely adventurous and dangerous military provocations ... an undisguised military threat ...”

The Korean People’s Army (KPA) will “deal merciless retaliatory blows at them, should they intrude into the sky and land and seas of the DPRK even an inch,” the news agency said.

North Korea regularly accuses the United States and South Korea of aggressive intentions before the military exercises, which have been held for years without major incident.

On Sunday KCNA accused the Americans of being “arch criminals prodding the north and the south into armed conflicts.”

North Korea, which is preparing to test its longest-range Taepodong-2 missile, said on Thursday it could not guarantee the safety of the South’s commercial flights off the east coast of the peninsula, where the missile base is located.

South Korean and Singaporean airlines said they would avoid North Korean airspace as a precaution, and Seoul told the North to withdraw the threat to its commercial airliners immediately.

Six-party talks aimed at coaxing Pyongyang to carry out nuclear disarmament have been under way for several years.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire but not a peace treaty and the two Koreas are still technically at war. They have about one million troops stationed near their respective sides of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.

Writing by Tim Pearce; Editing by Giles Elgood

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