The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) has urged the government to scrap upcoming joint military exercises between South Korea and the US. In a statement yesterday, the ecumenical organization said the exercises, which are “to prepare for a war on the Korean Peninsula,” come at a sensitive time following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. South Korea and the US are to conduct two joint exercises – “Key Resolve” from February 27 to March 9 and “Foal Eagle” from March 1 to April 30. The military says the exercises are necessary considering the threat posed by the North and will go ahead. Last Monday, South Korea conducted live firing exercises on islets near the maritime border with North Korea in the Yellow Sea. North Korea had issued a stern warning ahead of that exercise on Sunday. Reverend Kim Young-ju, secretary-general of NCCK, said in the statement that “the upcoming exercises will significantly increase tensions between the two Koreas and hamper moves for peace on the peninsula.” He suggested any future military drills “should not be conducted within 40 kilometers of the Demilitarized Zone.” He also called on the government to do more to build peace and reconciliation on the peninsula with dialogue, cooperation and mutual respect. NCCK spokesman, Reverend Kim Chang-hyun, said the exercises could be seen by the North as especially provocative since the mourning period declared for Kim Jong-il lasts until March. “The South Korean government should halt military drills out of respect,” he said. The NCCK plans to ask senior Protestant pastors and other religious leaders to join in a protest action against the military exercises.