Rice arrives in South Korea

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived in South Korea for talks on curbing North Korea's nuclear programme.

    Condoleezza Rice is on the fifth leg of her Asian tour

    Her arrival on Saturday coincided with the start of major annual US-South

    Korean military exercises that North Korea says are a prelude to

    an invasion.

    Rice, on the fifth leg of her first Asian tour since taking

    office, arrived at a military airbase in southern Seoul and flew by

    helicopter to a nearby bunker that is the command post for the

    exercises.

    About 17,000 US troops, 6000 of them stationed in South Korea,

    are taking part in the annual exercise with an unspecified number of

    South Korean troops.

    "Thank you for what you do every day in the front line of

    freedom," Rice told about 300 people including US and South Korean

    soldiers at the bunker.

    Cold War

    She said that although the Cold War had ended in other parts of

    the world, divisions remain on the Korean peninsula.

    About 17,000 US troops are 
    taking part in an annual

    exercise

    "I know that you face a constant threat every day. (South Korea)

    faces a threat ... from a state that is not democratic, that is not

    free, and doesn't have the best interest of its people at heart,"

    she said.

    "The forward march of freedom continues because of the strength

    of people, the men and women of the US forces in Korea and of the

    Republic of Korea (South Korea)."

    Rice is the highest US official to have visited the top-security

    command post code-named Tango, according to US officials.

    Joint drill

    The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its battle group arrived

    at the southeastern port of Busan a week before the drills with

    5200 sailors and 60 aircraft, including F-18 Super Hornets.

    A Striker unit - a rapid task force with armoured vehicles - is

    also taking part.

    "The level of the US troops and military equipment mobilised

    this time is similar to ones in the preceding years," the US

    military command in Seoul said in a statement.

    The drill focuses on a mock battle aimed at evaluating command

    capabilities to receive US forces from abroad, with troops mobilised

    for anti-commando operations and computer war games.

    The United States says the exercise is "defence-oriented" and

    designed to improve the ability of allied forces to defend South

    Korea against external aggression.

    North Korea's reaction 

    But North Korea has reacted nervously.

    "The projected exercises are extremely dangerous nuclear war

    drills to mount a preemptive attack on the DPRK (North Korea)," the

    official Korean Central News Agency said on Friday.

    "The projected exercises are extremely dangerous nuclear war

    drills to mount a preemptive attack on the DPRK (North Korea),"

    Korean Central News Agency

    "The DPRK will take all the necessary countermeasures including

    the increase of its nuclear arsenal to cope with the extremely

    hostile attempt of the US to bring down its system chosen by the

    Korean people themselves," it said.

    The country's "nukes serve as powerful deterrent to keep the

    balance of forces in Northeast Asia, prevent the outbreak of a new

    war and preserve peace," it said.

    Rice arrived from Japan for a two-day visit expected to focus on

    the North Korean nuclear issue. She is scheduled to meet President

    Roh Moo-Hyun, Unification Minister Chung Dong-Young and Foreign

    Minister Ban Ki-Moon on Sunday.

    SOURCE: AFP


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