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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 273 (August 1, 2013)

2013/08/01 10:32

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korea Marks 60th Anniversary of Korean War Armistice with Military Parade

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on July 27 marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement with a large scale parade of soldiers and military hardware with its leader Kim Jong-un in attendance.

On the day, which is celebrated as "Victory Day" in the socialist nation, goose-stepping soldiers marched through Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang as thousands of spectators wearing red and white clothes stood in a group to spell out the young leader's name.

The military parade marks a holiday the North Koreans call "Victory Day in the Fatherland Liberation War," although the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, and the Korean Peninsula remains technically at war.

Flanked by senior military leaders, Kim, who was wearing a Mao-style suit, walked on a red carpet to an upper podium, the state-run Korean Central Television showed in live footage.

The parade was conducted with two large portraits of Kim's grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and his late father, Kim Jong-il, hung on the front of the Grand People's Study Hall. Some soldiers and old veterans attended the parade in old combat uniforms worn during the war.

For North Korea, the day is celebrated as a show of strength both to its own people and the rest of the world, specifically to the United States, that it stands ready to fight again.

Thousands of soldiers marched across Kim Il-sung Square with military equipment, including ballistic missiles, cannons and rockets on mobile launchers.

The young third generation leader did not address the crowd, but after thousands of cheering citizens paraded by shouting his name, Kim, with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao at his side, waved to the crowd from a shaded balcony.

The two were often seen speaking together during the ceremony, showing signs of close relations between the two nations. China is Pyongyang's major ally and a crucial source of economic aid.

Li visited the North to commemorate the ceremony as China had fought alongside the North against South Korean and U.N. forces. He is the most senior Chinese official to visit Pyongyang since Kim took power in December 2011.

As fighter jets screamed overhead, a relaxed looking Kim smiled and talked with China's vice president.

The lavish assembly of weapons and troops is reminiscent of the marches held by the Soviet Union and China at the height of the Cold War. It is one of the few chances the world gets to see North Korea's military up close.

Although Pyongyang frequently uses the occasion to reveal new hardware, there didn't appear to be any new weapons in the military parade.

Overlooking a sea of spectators mobilized in Kim Il-sung Square to cheer and wave flags, leader Kim saluted his troops. He was flanked by senior military officials, the chests of their olive green and white uniforms laden with medals.

Kim's rule, which began in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, has been marked by high tensions with Washington and Seoul. He has overseen two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test that drew widespread condemnation and tightened U.N. sanctions.

Kim made his first major public speech during a parade in April 2012 in celebration of the centennial birthday of the country's founder Kim Il-sung, but he did not make an address on the July 27 anniversary event.

During the ceremony, the North's military leader Choe Ryong-hae called on the armed forces and the country's citizens to strive to build a prosperous nation and be prepared to oppose any foreign aggression.

"A peaceful environment is important for our country that puts priority on economic construction and the improvement of the lives of our people," Choe said. "All armed forces and people should strengthen the nation's defense posture and stand ready for a combat situation to be able to defend against any intrusion by foreign forces."

   Choe, the director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA), said the spirit of the 1950s has been "consistently inherited" by Kim Jong-un through his father Kim Jong-il.

He told the crowd that the country's military and people along with the Workers' Party would surely fulfill the lofty dreams of those heroes and warriors of the 1950s.

Choe said North Korea should be ready to fight to defend the stability the country needs to revive the economy. But his speech was mild compared with past fiery rhetoric where Pyongyang attacked the United States and South Korea.

The North's state media revealed a drone during a military drill in late March when tensions were running high as Pyongyang threatened to strike Seoul and Washington in response to the allies' annual military drills.

It is the first time since 1993 that North Korea has staged a parade on the armistice anniversary. The North usually held military parades on its national foundation day or the birthday of its late founder, Kim Il-sung.

Armored vehicles and trucks carrying cannons and multiple rocket launchers followed the march. Helicopters and fighter jets conducted an air show and an unmanned aircraft joined the performance.

Mobile launchers carrying Scud, Rodong and Musudan ballistic missiles as well as its newest missile, the KN-08, followed in succession.

A South Korean government source said that about 300 pieces of weapons appear to have been mobilized for the armistice parade, but no state-of-the-art weapons were seen.

"New weapons did not appear this year, and the number of weapons displayed during the parade was estimated to be about half the number in 2012," the source said.

One group of soldiers in the parade carried backpacks with a radioactive symbol. A South Korean military source said it is unlikely that they contain nuclear weapons, so the regime is probably just trying to give the impression that it has deployed nukes warfare ready and there is a unit in charge of them.

North Korea is estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs, but many analysts don't think it has yet mastered the technology needed to build warheads small enough to fit on long-range missiles.

"Although there is no evidence that the North has developed small-sized nuclear weapons, their participation in the parade shows that the country may have developed portable nuke weapons on its own," the source said.

At the head of the parade were veterans mostly in their 80s and 90s, sitting in the back of open trucks. They are considered heroes for helping save their country in the war against the U.S.-led U.N. troops following North Korea's invasion of South Korea in 1950.

Rows of tanks and other mobile armored weapons rolled past. All of them had the phrase, "Let's annihilate the U.S. imperial aggressors; the blood enemy of the Korean people," written on the side.

MiG jet fighters streaked by, heading north to south, and at low altitude helicopters dangled banners that read, "We will protect Marshall Kim Jong-un at the cost of our lives."

   The parade was smaller than the one held on Kim Il-sung's 100th birthday in April last year. Some 12,000 to 13,000 soldiers and about 300 pieces of military equipment took part, a South Korean government source said, compared to 15,000 and 800 last year.

North Korean state-run papers editorially marked the 60th anniversary. Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the ruling Workers' Party, said, "The brilliant victory in the Fatherland Liberation War under the leadership of President Kim Il-sung was a historic event that provided a landmark for an epochal turn in hewing out the destiny of the country and the nation, and accomplishing the human cause of independence."

   "The DPRK's (North Korea's) victory in the war was a shining result of the Juche-oriented military idea, strategy and tactics, and outstanding commanding art of Kim Il-sung," it said, adding, "The victory was attributable to the strong spirit for defending the country and popular heroism of the service personnel and people of the DPRK united close around Kim Il-sung.

Minju Joson, the Cabinet newspaper, said, "The undying feats of Kim Il-sung who made great contributions to the cause of independence of the country, and the people and the human cause of independence will shine forever."

   On the eve of the anniversary, Chinese Vice President Li in Kim's company watched a performance of the Arirang mass games conducted by tens of thousands of gymnasts, dancers and students at Pyongyang's 150,000-capacity May Day stadium.

On July 26, a ceremony of the completion of the Fatherland Liberation War Martyrs Cemetery was held in Pyongyang in the presence of leader Kim Jong-un.

The National Defense Commission, the North's top decision-making body, hosted a banquet in honor of the delegation of war veterans of the Chinese People's Volunteers (CPV), and the delegation of war veterans and families of martyrs of the CPV.

A dancing party of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces took place, and the ministry hosted a reception for the visiting military delegations of various countries and military attaches of foreign embassies in Pyongyang.

On July 29, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited a cemetery for Chinese soldiers who died in the Korean War while fighting on the side of the North, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

The report said Kim paid tribute at the cemetery of fallen fighters of the Chinese People's Volunteers in Hoechang County, South Phyongan Province.

Kim was quoted as saying North Korea's mountains and fields are associated with their blood and noble souls of brave CPV fighters, and their sacrifices will always be remembered.

The KCNA said wreaths in the name of Kim and the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party were laid before the grave of Mao Anying, the eldest son of Chinese leader Mao Zedong, a CPV fighter who was killed in an air strike in November 1950.

China sent forces across the Yalu River that forms its border with North Korea on Oct. 19, 1950, about four months after the Korean War broke out, having earlier warned U.S.-led forces that it would intervene if they crossed the 38th parallel and pressed north toward the Sino-North Korean border.

In 2010, as China commemorated the 60th anniversary of its participation in what it calls the "War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea," its official media reported figures showing that a total of 183,108 CPV officers and soldiers died in the conflict.

The KCNA said the cemetery visited by Kim "bears witness to the history showing the militant friendship between the peoples of the DPRK and China as they fought together for the common cause, and it is a symbol of the DPRK-China friendship."

   On July 27, leader Kim Jong-un unveiled a renovated Korean War museum with a U.S.-baiting centerpiece in the form of the spy ship USS Pueblo, captured in 1968.

Kim cut the red ribbon on the monumental Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum after inspecting an honor guard in front of thousands of war veterans and invited foreign guests.

Much of the museum collection is a paean to Kim Il-sung's strategic battlefield brilliance -- credited with bettering the might of the U.S. military in the Korean War.

The main draw of the museum is the USS Pueblo, berthed on the river bank next to the main museum building. The Pueblo was attacked and seized by North Korea's navy on January 23, 1968. One American sailor was killed in the assault, and 82 others were captured and held prisoner for 11 months before they were freed.

(END)