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North Korea warns of 'merciless strike' ahead of US-South Korea drills

The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us: North Korea

AFP | PTI  |  Seoul 

Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un | Photo: AP/PTI

warned today that the will be "pouring gasoline on fire" by conducting an annual war game in the South next week amid heightened tensions between and

Combative rhetoric between the nations spiked after tested two intercontinental ballistic (ICBM) last month that appeared to bring much of the within range, sparking an intense warning by President that could rain "fire and fury" on the North.

then threatened to fire a salvo of towards the territory of - a plan that leader last week delayed, but warned could go ahead depending on Washington's next move.

Amid the fiery volley of threats, and will begin Monday the "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" (UFG) joint military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops that Pyongyang views as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion.

"The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won't evolve into actual fighting," said an editorial carried by the North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

"The Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military exercises will be like pouring gasoline on fire and worsen the state of the peninsula," the paper said.

Warning of an "uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war" on the peninsula, it added: "If the is lost in a fantasy that war on the peninsula is at somebody else's doorstep far away from them across the Pacific, it is far more mistaken than ever."

and Washington have said the large computer- simulated UFG exercise, which dates back to 1976, will go ahead as planned but did not comment on whether the drills would be scaled back in an effort to ease tensions.

Around 17,500 troops will participate in this year's drills - a cutback from last year - according to numbers provided by Seoul's defence ministry.

But South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported the allies were mulling scrapping an initial plan to bring in two carriers to the peninsula to take part in the drill.

South Korea's top military officer said Sunday that the current security situation on the peninsula was "more serious than at any other time" amid the North's growing nuclear and missile threats, and warned Pyongyang of merciless retaliation against any attack.

"If the enemy provokes, (our military) will retaliate resolutely and strongly to make it regret bitterly," said General Jeong Kyeong-Doo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his inauguration speech.

First Published: Sun, August 20 2017. 13:25 IST