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S. Korea-US naval drill begins in face of North's anger
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) July 16, 2014

US warns of aviation risk from N.Korea rockets
Washington (AFP) July 16, 2014 - The United States and its allies have lodged concerns with the UN aviation agency over North Korea's rocket launches, fearing they could put civilian airplanes at risk, officials said Wednesday.

The United States and several other countries charged that the communist state has not properly informed the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) over its recent test-firings of rockets and missiles.

The letter, co-signed by the United States and sent to the ICAO's president, said that North Korea's actions pose a "serious threat," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"North Korea's decision to conduct these launches without prior notification threatens the safety of international aviation and demonstrates North Korea's disregard for the rules and regulations of the organization," Psaki told reporters.

Psaki said that the letter was sent on July 8. She did not identify the other nations that signed, but media in Seoul said that they included North Korea's neighbors South Korea and Japan.

Other signatories were Australia, Britain, Canada, France and Germany, South Korean news reports said, quoting a foreign ministry official.

North Korea is a member of ICAO, the Montreal-based UN agency that works to ensure the safety of international aviation.

North Korea, which accuses the United States of hostility, has defiantly pursued a nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program. On Sunday, it fired two Scud missiles into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

Despite the recent concerns, North Korea has said in the past that it informed ICAO and a similar group, the International Maritime Organization, over long-range launches including in December 2012, when it put a rudimentary satellite into orbit.

South Korea and the United States on Wednesday launched a five-day joint naval exercise in the face of angry North Korean protests and warnings backed by missile tests.

Two separate drills began simultaneously in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and off the southern port of Mokpo, South Korean military officials said.

The drill off Mokpo was led by the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, which will also take part in a search and rescue exercise next week with South Korean and Japanese maritime forces.

The presence of the carrier has been especially galling for Pyongyang, which denounced it as a "reckless" act of provocation and a modern-day example of "gunboat diplomacy".

The joint exercise follows an unusually extended series of artillery, rocket and missile tests by North Korea, which fired 100 shells into the East Sea on Monday.

There have also been several short-range ballistic missile tests by the North in recent weeks, including the firing of two Scud missiles on Sunday.

South Korea and the United States hold a series of army and navy drills every year that are habitually condemned by Pyongyang as rehearsals for invasion.

Seoul and Washington insist they are defensive in nature.

The recent North Korean missile tests have coincided with various peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal to halt all provocative military activity.

Officials from both sides are due to hold rare talks on Thursday to discuss North Korea's participation in the upcoming Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has accused Pyongyang of adopting a "two-faced attitude" by proposing a lowering of tensions while continuing its missile launches.

In a meeting Wednesday with Defence Minister Han Min-Koo and top military commanders, Park called for swift retaliation for any provocation by the North.

"If there is any provocation, I expect you to retaliate strongly in the initial stages," she said, adding the Korean peninsula faces a serious situation due to the North's "unpredictable" attitude.

"The gravity of the situation does not allow for the least bit of carelessness in maintaining our defence posture," Park said.


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Seoul (AFP) July 13, 2014
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