South Korea raises military alert level
By Soo-Jeong Lee
SEOUL, South Korea South Korea's military went on heightened alert today as concerns arose that North Korea could use the distraction of war in Iraq to raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean troops prepare for exercises with U.S. troops. Military leaders tried yesterday to ease the North's fears about the exercises.
In a televised address, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun called the war in Iraq "an inevitable measure to eliminate weapons of mass destruction as quickly as possible, at a time when diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue peacefully have failed."
Roh vowed to ensure that the war will not worsen the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
After presiding over a National Security Council meeting, Roh said his military strengthened its vigilance and national police would beef up security to guard against possible terrorist attacks.
Yesterday, the U.S.-led United Nations Command sought to ease North Korean fears over joint military exercises in South Korea, saying they are defensive and not related to "current world events."
The North has maintained the exercises signal plans to invade it. Pyongyang refused a request to discuss the matter at a higher military level today, the U.N. Command said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military in South Korea announced plans to implement a new curfew beginning late today.
"The new curfew is aimed at protecting U.S. soldiers and civilian employees from anybody that might want to potentially use the world situation to their benefits," said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for the U.S. Eighth Army.
All 37,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea must be off the streets by 7:30 p.m., several hours earlier than the normal curfew, he said.
Referring to the North's refusal to agree to a high-level meeting on the joint exercises, Col. Martin Glasser of the Command's Military Armistice Commission said the North "has turned down an excellent opportunity to discuss important events affecting the Korean peninsula."
Glasser said the annual exercises are not related to "current world events."
"We also explained that the exercise is defensive in nature and is not an aggressive or a threatening move against North Korea," he said in a statement. "And that these are regularly scheduled exercises much like the exercises they routinely conduct in North Korea."
North Korea insisted the United States is preparing to attack, a claim it has made before.
"The ever more reckless saber rattling of the U.S. imperialists is, in a nutshell, a premeditated move to mount a pre-emptive nuclear attack," the official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said yesterday.
Military exercises began early this month and will continue through April 2.