North Korea Monday severed an emergency
communications hotline with South Korea as its neighbour and the
United States began military exercises at a time of ever-escalating
tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Seoul said Pyongyang appeared to have disconnected the telephone line on its side of the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone as it had promised to do last week. South Korean calls placed on the hotline Monday morning failed, the South's Unification Ministry said.
Two calls are usually placed on the hotline every workday, a ministry spokeswoman said.
North Korea's relations with the South and the United States, which have been severely strained in the past five years, have plunged even further this year with North Korea's third nuclear test, conducted February 12, and a resulting tightening last week of UN Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang.
North Korea has reacted with near-daily threats of war, including scrapping the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and conducting a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the US. It also declared a non-aggression pact with South Korea null and void.
In announcing the severing of the emergency hotline, it said, "This channel can no longer perform its mission due to the prevailing grave situation."
It had severed the communications link twice before, in 2008 and 2010.
South Korean-US military exercises always raise the ire of Pyongyang, which considers them practice for an invasion of the North, and two sets are now under way. The annual Key Resolve exercises began Monday and are to last two weeks.
The computer-simulated drills test US-South Korean responses to a potential attack from the North. They are mobilizing 10,000 South Korean and 3,500 US soldiers, their militaries said.
They have also been conducting spring field exercises since the beginning of the month in South Korea.
The North was expected to carry out its own large-scale military drills this week, the South's Defence Ministry said.
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