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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 258 (April 18, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

Highly Anticipated N. Korea Missile Launch No-show on Founder's Birthday

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid heightened inter-Korean tensions, North Korea celebrated the 101st birthday of its late founder on April 15 without a much anticipated missile launch or a massive military parade as it held last year.

   North Korea is believed to be ready to launch a medium-range "Musudan" ballistic missile, which may be capable of flying as far as the U.S. territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean, and the timing of the missile launch had been widely anticipated between April 10 and April 15 in celebration of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

   The South Korean government and the military have prepared for the possible firing of Musudan, Rodong and Skud missiles in the past few days and the Defense Ministry now expects the North Korean "missile crisis" will be prolonged.

   "North Korea is believed to be ready for a missile launch, but there are no signs of the communist nation preparing to start a full-scale war," South Korea's Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said during a parliamentary meeting on April 15, noting that Seoul is keeping a close watch over North Korea based on the assessment that the country is ready to launch a missile at any time.

   "As North Korea is believed to provoke at any time depending on its hostile rhetoric and the political and military situation on the Korean Peninsula, we are fully prepared (for an attack)," Kim said.

   However, Kim urged the North to change its attitude and accept Seoul's offer for dialogue in order to halt the standoff currently taking place on the Korean Peninsula.

   A military source here said the military reached the conclusion that North Korea did not hold a military parade on April 15, adding that North Korean news media made no mention at all about a parade.

   South Korean intelligence authorities has knowledge that North Korea conducted training of about 3,000 soldiers at the Mirim Airport near Pyongyang on April 8 and the training was thought to be in preparation for the birthday celebrations of the late Kim Il-sung known as the "Day of the Sun."

   Because there was no military parade this time, the training is believed to prepare for the founding day of the (North) Korean People's Army on April 25 or for the Korean War armistice celebration on July 27, the source said.

   Observers in Seoul said that, as usual, Pyongyang celebrated the "Day of the Sun" in grand fashion by holding sporting events, art exhibitions and festivals to showcase its adoration for the late leader who died in 1994.

   North Korea's state media outlets also announced the numerous congratulatory messages sent from foreign governments and organizations to Pyongyang, lauding Kim's accomplishments while claiming that many countries around the world were celebrating the birthday with special seminars, receptions and book and photo exhibits. The founder's birthday is the most important holiday in the communist nation, with Pyongyang always using the day to advertise its form of socialism to the rest of the world.

   Despite all of the events taking place, North Korean observers said there are signs that the country is on edge over the level of tension surrounding the Korean Peninsula at present, and that the scale of the festivities were not on par with 2012.

   "Last year's holiday was important because it marked the new leader Kim Jong-un's first full year as head and the 100th anniversary of the founder's birthday," said Park Hyeong-jung, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. He said judging by the news coming out of the country the festivities have been toned down this year.

   Others said that signs of tension can be found in the dignitaries that accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the Kumsusan Palace in Pyongyang, where the embalmed bodies of the country's two late leaders lie in state.

   "With the exception of Kim, other people of his entourage wore military uniforms when they paid respects to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il," an observer said. Kim Jong-il is the incumbent leader's father who died in late 2011.

   Senior generals and officials at present at the midnight ceremony included Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the military's General Political Bureau; Jang Song-thaek, Kim's uncle and widely viewed as the No. 2 man in the country; Hyon Yong Chol, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army; and Armed Forces Minister Kim Kyok-sik.

   "In the past, civilians from the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the government were present for such events, but this year, the entourage was made almost exclusively of military personnel," he said.

   In addition, many in Seoul speculated that Pyongyang seems to be using the holiday, along with recent threats of war against South Korea and the United States, as a move to consolidate Kim Jong-un's power base within the country.

   Kim, known to be in his late 20s or early 30s, has taken full control of the country, but his power base may not be as strong as that of his father, who had a much greater time to prepare before he took to the country's helm.

   "By strengthening the military and internal security forces, the leadership may be moving to stabilize Kim's rule now that it has entered its second full year," a North Korean researcher said. "The North's hard-line stance toward South Korea and the United States may be an extension of this policy."

   The country has claimed it can launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington, and had showed signs it will launch a Musudan missile. South Korea said the Musudan missile, based on the design of a Soviet submarine-launched missile, can be fired at anytime once the leadership gives its consent.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang hosted a gathering of senior WPK officials of the government and military on April 14 as part of the Day of the Sun festivities, with participants emphasizing the need to increase the country's nuclear weapons capabilities and effectively challenge the provocations by the United States.

   North Korea, which recently declared a "state of war" against South Korea, announced earlier this month that it would restart a mothballed plutonium-producing reactor and suspended operations at the inter-Korean industrial park, the only real economic link between the two Koreas.

   In addition, a new statue of the late founder was erected in front of the Ministry of People's Security over the weekend, with the capital city playing host to the international Mangyongdae Prize Marathon attended by athletes from the Ukraine and Italy, among others.

   While its people are suffering from chronic poverty, North Korea spent a huge amount of money in idolizing the late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

   A Seoul official said North Korea has spent anywhere between $300 million and $800 million every five or 10 years on the April 15th celebrations, and it was expected to have spent at least $1 billion last year. That is more or less the entire $1.15 billion it earned from selling anthracite and other natural resources to China in 2011. As the idolization is still going on, the amount is likely to swell further.