- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2009

North Korea says its military will be on “special alert” because of South Korea’s joint military drills with the United States.

The communist nation’s army made the announcement Monday the same day that the country said it was restarting key reconciliation projects with South Korea to reunite separated families and organize joint tourism.

The North’s army said its troops would go on “a special alert” starting Monday, when South Korean and U.S. militaries planned to start annual computer-simulated war games.

The statement, carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency, says the North would retaliate mercilessly at the “slightest military provocation” from South Korea and the United States. The two allies say their maneuvers are purely defensive.

The agreement to ease restrictions on the border follows a meeting between the reclusive state’s leader Kim Jong-il and the head of the South Korean Hyundai Group who had gone to Pyongyang to seek the release of a detained worker.

The visit followed hot on the heels of one earlier in the month by former President Bill Clinton, who also met Mr. Kim, to win the release of two jailed American journalists.

The visits come after months of military grandstanding by the North, including a second nuclear test, that has led to tightened U.N. economic sanctions which some analysts say may be starting to hurt what is already an almost broken economy.

North Korea has portrayed both visits as paying tribute to leader Mr. Kim, 67, whose health is the subject of speculation. He is thought to be trying to ensure his youngest son becomes the third generation in the family to head the destitute communist dynasty, its coffers drained by heavy military spending, poor economic management and years of U.N. sanctions.

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