March 7, 2013 / 3:15 AM / 6 years ago

North Korea to start state-wide military drills: South

A North Korean flag flutters in the propaganda village of Gijeongdong as seen from South Korea's Taesungdong freedom village, near the border village of Panmunjom, during a graduation ceremony for Taesungdong Elementary School, in Paju February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Jung Yeon-je/Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea is conducting a series of military drills and is getting ready for state-wide war practice of an unusual scale, South Korea’s defense ministry said on Thursday, as tensions grow ahead of more sanctions being devised against Pyongyang.

South Korea and the United States, which are conducting their own annual military drills until the end of April, are watching the North Korea’s activities for signs it will go from exercise to an actual attack, a South Korean official said.

“It hasn’t been frequent that the North conducted military exercise at the state level,” South Korea’s defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. “The North is currently conducting various drills on land, at sea and aerially.”

“We are watching the North’s activities and stepping up readiness under the assumption that these drills can lead to provocation at any time.”

Kim declined to confirm news reports that the North has imposed no-fly zones off its coasts in a possible move to fire missiles, but he said any flight ban limited to near the coast would not be for weapons with meaningful ranges.

The heightened activities on both sides of the heavily armed Korean border comes as the U.N. Security Council works on a new resolution to strengthen sanctions on Pyongyang to punish it for rocket firings and its third nuclear test last month.

In the latest threat coming under its new young leader Kim Jong-un, a top North Korean general on Tuesday said Pyongyang was scrapping the armistice deal with the United States that ended the 1950-53 Korean war.

South Korea’s military said in a rare warning on Wednesday that it would strike back at the North and target its leadership if Pyongyang launched an attack in response to what it says are “hostile” drills by the U.S. and South forces.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry

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