The exercise, code-named "Reception, Staging Onward Movement and Integration," made a quiet start to avoid North Korea's angry reaction.
"This is just a routine exercise aimed at training and evaluating joint capabilities to receive U.S. reinforcement forces from abroad," Seoul's Defense Ministry said. The drill is not designed to be provocative or threatening the North, he said.
South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command sent a telegram to notify North Korea of the purpose of the exercise, but North Korean officials refused to accept it, the official said.
The exercise is one of the three largest annual joint military drills between the two allies. North Korea's dictatorship described the exercise as a "provocative war game" that shows Washington's hostile stance toward Pyongyang.
"Given the aggressive nature and danger of the exercise, we are compelled to serve a stern warning to the U.S. imperialists," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement this week. "What the United States seeks in the provocative war game is to aggravate the inter-Korean relations."
The North, which has refrained from criticizing the South since a historic inter-Korean summit last June, warned Seoul that its participation in the drill means "downright betrayal" of the summit agreement to pursue peace and reconciliation.
The military exercise came amid new signs of tension on the peninsula triggered by North Korea's boycott of peace talks and reconciliation events with South Korea. And, like other leftists - foreign and domestic - North Korea has waged a fierce propaganda onslaught against the Bush administration.
A North Korean navy patrol boat entered South Korean territorial waters Thursday, raising tensions on the divided peninsula. When challenged by South Korean navy ships, the North Korean vessel left, Seoul military officials said. Last week, two North Korean boats crossed the western sea border.
The two Koreas remain at technically at war since their 1950-53 war that ended in an armistice, rather than a peace treaty. About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.
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