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Warnings exchanged ahead of S Korea war games

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SEOUL (AFP): South Korea urged the North Sunday to end its military provocations but Pyongyang threatened Seoul with the "severest punishment" over massive joint war games planned with the United States.

The rivals exchanged tit-for-tat warnings as the South unveiled a roadmap for the reunification of the Korean peninsula on the eve of the 10-day exercise involving some 56,000 South Korean and 30,000 American soldiers.

"It is about time Pyongyang looked straight at reality, made a courageous change and came up with a drastic decision," South Korea's President Lee Myung-Bak said.

The Koreas "need to overcome the current state of division and proceed with the goal of peaceful reunification," he said in a speech to celebrate Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

Lee warned that South Korea would not tolerate any military provocations from its neighbour.

"The North must never venture to carry out another provocation nor will we tolerate it if they do so again," he said.

But Pyongyang issued a fresh warning Sunday that its army and people would "deal a merciless counterblow" to the United States and South Korea over the war games "as it had already resolved and declared at home and abroad".

"The military counteraction of (North Korea) will be the severest punishment... ever met in the world," a spokesman for the North's army General Chief said in a statement quoted by state media.

Cross-border tensions have been high since May when Seoul and Washington, citing multinational investigation, said Pyongyang was behind the March torpedoing of a South Korean warship that left 46 sailors dead.

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