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(LEAD) N. Korean leader inspects air force unit on tree-planting day

2015/03/03 11:58

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspected a major air force unit credited with supporting the 2009 launch of a long-range rocket, according to Pyongyang's media Tuesday.

A day earlier, Kim looked around a monument to honor "14 stalwart fighters, who displayed the suicidal-attack spirit" at Unit 447 of the Air and Anti-Air Force, reported the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The monument commemorates the "heroic feats performed by the 14 fighter pilots in the operation to ensure the successful launch of satellite Kwangmyongsong-2," said the KCNA.

In April 2009, Kim observed the launch of the rocket, which Pyongyang claims was aimed at sending a satellite into orbit, along with his father and then-leader Kim Jong-il. The launch was unsuccessful.

Citing the North's earlier news reports, South Korean officials said that at least one of the 14 airmen was killed due to a jet crash on the eve of the rocket launch.

"It's presumed that a pilot was killed as a MiG-23 fighter jet crashed into the waters near the launch site in Musudan-ri while conducting a patrol flight against a possible attempt to intercept (the rocket)," a unification ministry official told reporters on background.

The pilot received a posthumous medal and 13 others were awarded watches with the name of Kim Jong-il, he added.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un plants a tree during a visit to an air force unit to mark the nation's tree-planting day. (KCNA-Yonhap) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un plants a tree during a visit to an air force unit to mark the nation's tree-planting day. (KCNA-Yonhap)

Kim Jong-un. meanwhile, inspected the air force unit on the occasion of the North's tree-planting day, which falls on March 2.

He said the unit needs to play a role in leading in his campaign for forest restoration, according to the KCNA.

He planted ginkgo and other types of trees himself during the visit, it added.

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