North Korea denounces 'gang bosses' of US and allies amid drills

By Soo-hyang Choi

SEOUL (Reuters) -The United States, South Korea and Japan staged joint naval missile defence drills off the Korean peninsula on Tuesday, as North Korea denounced the "gang bosses" of Washington and its allies for increasing the risk of nuclear war.

The three nations staged exercises in international waters off South Korea's southern Jeju island to improve their ability to detect and track targets, and share information in the event of provocation by Pyongyang, South Korea's military said.

The drills come as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for "radically" modernising the weapons and equipment of his country's naval forces, criticising an increased presence of U.S. strategic assets in the region.

In a speech to mark Navy Day, Kim said the "gang bosses" of the United States, Japan and South Korea announced regular joint military exercises, news agency KCNA reported, apparently referring to their Aug. 18 summit at Camp David, Maryland.

"Owing to the reckless confrontational moves of the U.S. and other hostile forces, the waters off the Korean Peninsula have been reduced to the world's biggest war hardware concentration spot, the most unstable waters with the danger of a nuclear war," Kim was quoted by KCNA as saying.

In the first standalone meeting between the leaders of the U.S., South Korea and Japan, the three agreed to deepen military and economic cooperation as they seek to project unity in the face of China's growing power and the North's nuclear threats.

Japan said the sharing of information on ballistic missiles was part of the drills on Tuesday.

"The exercises will strongly facilitate trilateral cooperation and demonstrate the commitment of Japan, the United States, and the Republic of Korea to protect a free and open international order based on the rule of law," Japan's defence ministry said in a statement.

South Korea and the United States last week began the Ulchi Freedom Shield summer exercises, designed to enhance their joint responses to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats. Pyongyang has long denounced the drills as a rehearsal for war.

As part of the exercises, the allies' special operations troops practised infiltrating an enemy's coastline from the sea, riding rubber boats and emerging from the waves with diving gear and guns.

(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi in SEOUL, additional reporting by Kantaro Komiya and Chang-Ran Kim in TOKYO; Editing by Grant McCool, Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)