SEOUL, South Korea -- U.S. and South Korean forces will start 'Team Spirit '86' joint military exercises in early February, officials of the two nations said today.
A joint announcement said the exercise, an annual event since 1976, will begin on or about Feb. 10 and involve forces currently in South Korea and from other locations within the U.S. Pacific Command and the U.S. mainland.
The purpose of the exercise 'is to increase the defensive posture of the Republic of (South) Korea and U.S. support forces,' the announcement said.
The exercise, which includes the reception, staging, employment and redeployment of out-of-country U.S. augmentation forces, usually lasts two months.
The American-led U.N. Command, which has operational control over U.S. and South Korean forces in Korea, sent a message to North Korea, inviting its representatives to observe the war games.
'Your side is hereby notified that Exercise Team Spirit-86 will be held in March, with preliminary activities beginning in February 1986,' said the message sent through the Korean Military Armistice Commission.
The message pointed out the U.N. Command has been making advance announcements on annual Team Spirit exercises since 1982 and has invited North Korea for the last four years to observe the exercises.
The message, which also extended an invitation to Chinese observers, said if North Korea invites U.N. Command representatives to observe North Korean training exercises 'we would welcome such an opportunity.'
North Korea, which does not announce or report on its military exercises, has never accepted any of the U.N. Command invitations.
North Korea announced last Saturday it would suspend military exercises, effective Feb. 1, and called on the United States and South Korea 'not to hold the military exercise' in South Korea in February.
A South Korean official stressed the Team Spirit exercises are defensive in nature and conducted in public, and as such cannot affect South-North talks.
'Team Spirit has nothing to do with dialogue under way between the South and the North on various fronts,' he said. 'And we will faithfully push the next round of South-North economic talks scheduled for Jan. 22, as well as talks between Red Cross officials and lawmakers of the two sides.'