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N. Korean leader visits air force amid tensions
SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has visited the air force unit that shot down a U.S. spy plane in 1969, Pyongyang's official news agency reported Friday.

   Kim frequently inspects military units, but his latest trip to the Air and Anti-air Force Command comes amid speculation that the communist country may carry out a nuclear test to try to compensate for last month's botched rocket launch.

   It also occurred more than a week after North Korea threatened to launch special military actions to reduce Seoul to ashes in minutes over South Korea's alleged insult to the North's dignity.

   "The air force has a very important role to play in firmly defending the socialist country from the encroachment of the enemy," Kim said, according to an English-language dispatch of the Korean Central News Agency.

   Kim, who took over the country following the December death of his father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il, also "set forth the important tasks which would serve as guidelines for bolstering up the air and anti-air forces of the country," the dispatch said, without elaborating.

   The new leader has also "highly estimated the achievements" of the command's personnel. In 1969, the air force unit shot down EC-121, a U.S. navy reconnaissance plane over international waters off the North's east coast, killing all 31 Americans on board.

   The incident occurred one year after the North seized a U.S. spy ship, Pueblo.

   In April, Kim inspected the navy unit that captured the Pueblo and ordered his troops to bury the nation's enemies at sea if they "dare intrude into the territorial waters" of the North.

   U.S. President Barack Obama said during his trip to Seoul in March that Washington has no hostile intent toward North Korea.

   Still, North Korea frequently accuses the United States of harboring a hostile policy toward Pyongyang and plotting with South Korea to invade the North.

   Kim has made frequent trips to military units in an apparent attempt to bolster his support from the military, a key backbone of his rule.