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Published: Saturday January 25, 2014 MYT 2:55:12 AM
Updated: Saturday January 25, 2014 MYT 2:56:27 AM

North Korea warns U.S./South Korea military drills could spark disaster

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - North Korea took its demand for the United States and South Korea to halt joint military drills to the United Nations, holding a rare news conference on Friday to warn that the exercises could get "out of control and plunge into unimaginable disaster."

North Korea's U.N. Ambassador Sin Son Ho said that the international community should no longer allow the United States and South Korea to carry out the military drills on the Korean peninsula, which are scheduled for February and March.

"If the 'coordination' and 'cooperation' with the U.S. are so precious and valuable, they had better hold the exercises in the secluded area or in the U.S. far away from the territorial land, sea and air of the Korean peninsula," Sin said.

North Korea has traditionally called for the joint exercises to be called off, seeing them as a prelude to invasion. Sin repeated that demand at the United Nations on Friday, first made by Pyongyang last week, for the drills to be cancelled.

South Korea on January 17 rejected the North's call to halt military drills with the United States, saying that as a democracy, it does not launch preemptive strikes.

The annual drills have been conducted for decades without a major incident. The two allies have stressed that they are purely defensive in nature and aimed at testing readiness against North Korean aggression.

Tensions soared early last year as Pyongyang reacted angrily to tightened U.N. sanctions imposed in response to its most recent nuclear test. North Korea said it would retaliate against any hostile moves by striking at the United States, Japan and South Korea, triggering months of fiery rhetoric.

"Our nuclear force serves as a means for deterring the U.S. from posing a nuclear threat," Sin said. "We courteously propose the South side not to resort to reckless acts of bringing dangerous nuclear strike means of the U.S. to South Korea and to areas around it."

"We remind once again that even minor and accidental conflict can immediately lead to an all-out war," he said. "We never want to see things fall out of control and plunge into unimaginable disaster."

This year the North mixed its demand for a halt to the drills with a message of national reconciliation, but the South has already rejected it as "insincere."

North Korea also on Friday proposed reunions of Korean families separated since the Korean War six decades ago, which South Korea quickly welcomed.

The two Koreas remain technically at war, as their 1950-53 civil conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by G Crosse)

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