Philippines 'worried' over U.S.-S. Korea upcoming military exercise

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The Philippine government said Thursday it is "worried" over this weekend's joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea, saying it might further escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and endanger the security of thousands of Filipinos living and working in South Korea.

Philippine foreign affairs undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. said Manila will closely monitor this Sunday's military activity and its implications, which he noted could be interpreted by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as a "show of force."

"What worries us is the joint military exercise. We will be watching that very, very closely," Conejos told a local radio.

The upcoming joint naval exercise will start on Sunday in waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula, involving a strike group headed by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

Conejos, meanwhile, asked labor officials to consider delaying the deployment of at least 1,000 Filipino workers bound for South Korea for at least a week until the situation stabilizes.

"I think the most prudent thing to do is they might have to wait at least a week. Let us observe the situation first," he said.

However, Conejos maintained that there will be no travel ban enforced by the Philippine government.

Tension gripped the Korean Peninsula after South Korea and DPRK exchanged artillery fire in waters off the west coast of the divided peninsula Tuesday.

The exchange of fire left four people killed and several others injured on the South Korean side, while damage to the DPRK have yet to be verified.

Following the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the Philippine Embassy in South Korea issued alert level 1 for Filipinos there.

Conejos assured that contingency measures are in place for the Filipinos once the conflict escalates, saying the Philippine government is prepared to move them out if the situation worsens.

A 24-hour embassy hotline has been activated to assist Filipinos as the embassy is on heightened alert, Conejos said, adding that Filipinos who voluntarily want to come home at this point may do so.

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