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DPRK troops on standby over US-ROK defense exercises

THE Democratic People's Republic of Korea yesterday said it had put its armed forces on full combat readiness in response to the start of military exercises by the United States and the Republic of Korea, raising tension on the divided peninsula.

In a statement read on state television, a fierce-voiced military official also warned that any attempt to shoot down the long-range missile the country plans to launch soon would be seen as an act of war.

Pyongyang routinely accuses the US and South Korea of aggressive intentions with the exercises, but the rhetoric this time has been more strident.

It called the drills a provocation that would only occur "on the eve of a war." It also cut off a military hot line with the South, causing a complete shutdown of their border and stranding hundreds of South Koreans working in an industrial zone in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

The line is the one link between the two armies who are massed either side of the border that has divided them for more than half a century.

US marines will conduct live-fire drills north of Seoul and within an hour's drive from the border. A US aircraft carrier will take part in the exercises, the US military said.

The drills come as Pyongyang prepares to test-fire its Taepodong-2 missile.

Pyongyang says the launch would be for a satellite as part of its communications development. "Shooting our satellite for peaceful purposes will precisely mean a war," a spokesman for the Korean People's Army said.

In the disputed waters off the west coast of the peninsula there was no sign that the North was about to match its rhetoric with action.

"I hope that (South Korean) President Lee Myung-bak takes an easier line with North Korea. It will makes things easier for people on the island," said Cho Hee-ju, visiting her husband on on Yeonpyeong island, just 11 kilometer from the North and the scene of deadly skirmishes between the two Korean navies in the past - most recently in 2002.

Last week, the North said it could not guarantee the safety of South Korean civilian aircraft flying near its airspace as it readied to launch the missile. That forced several airliners to change their routes.


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