Seoul conducts maritime drills ahead of Kim-Moon summit

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Seoul, March 26 (IANS) South Korea conducted maritime drills on Monday to commemorate the sinking of one of its ships by the North, even as preparations for an upcoming summit between the leaders of the two nations in late April are in full swing.

Around 10 ships and several aircraft were deployed in the Sea of Japan (known as the East Sea in two Koreas), a South Korean Defence Ministry spokesperson told Efe news.

The drills have been conducted every year since 2011 and this year marked the eighth year of the Cheonan sinking incident in the Yellow Sea that had killed 46 crew members.

An international probe had concluded that the ship sank after it was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine. A small ceremony in memory of the victims was also held, the spokesperson added.

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This year, the South Korean Navy did not make any official announcement about the drills to avoid escalating tension between the two countries ahead of the proposed summit between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April.

The North Korean leader is also expected to meet US President Donald Trump in May to discuss the possible denuclearisation of the North Korean regime.

However, the North Korean media on Sunday had accused Seoul of hampering the current climate of rapprochement between the two countries by deploying stealth jets and acquiring more long-range missiles.

The meeting in April would be the first inter-Korean summit in 11 years while the one in May would be the first ever summit between the leaders of North Korea and the US after seven decades of conflict and 25 years of failed negotiations and tensions over North Korea’s nuclear programme.

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