North Korea plans military parade on the eve of Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang
North Korea will mark the foundation of its regular army on February 8, its state media said on Tuesday – which will be the day before the Winter Olympics open in the South.
Reports and officials say Pyongyang could be preparing a military parade as a display of strength ahead of the sporting festival, which has triggered a rare rapprochement between the two halves of the divided peninsula.
In recent years Pyongyang has proclaimed April 25 as the establishment of its army, naming it as the day the country’s founder Kim Il-sung set up anti-Japanese guerilla forces in 1932.
Watch: North Korean delegation arrives in Seoul
It will now mark the foundation on February 8, when Kim launched the Korean People’s Army (KPA) regular armed forces in 1948, the ruling Workers’ Party announced.
Until 1978 the anniversary was marked on the February date, and the switch back gives Pyongyang a formal justification if it decides to go ahead with a parade next month, which will be the 70th anniversary of the regular military’s establishment.
Satellite photos have shown troops and military vehicles rehearsing at an airfield near Pyongyang for an event.
A South Korean government official told the Yonhap news agency that they were increasing in numbers.
“At Mirim airfield, 13,000 soldiers and some 200 vehicles were spotted preparing for the parade,” the unidentified official was quoted as saying.
But Pyongyang is bitterly cold in February and the numbers are smaller than those involved in a giant spectacle last April to mark the 105th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth, which showcased a range of weaponry including what appeared to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The government and other authorities will take “practical steps to significantly mark” the February 8 anniversary, which was “a historic day”, said the ruling party’s Political Bureau, according to the North’s state news agency KCNA.
April 25 will continue to be marked as the founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, it added.
Under current leader Kim Jong-Un, Kim Il-sung’s grandson, Pyongyang last year rattled the international community with nuclear and missile tests. But it has agreed to send athletes to the South’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, march with the South under one flag at the opening ceremony and form an inter-Korean women’s ice hockey team.
Separately, Seoul’s presidential Blue House hit back at suggestions that next month’s Games had been hijacked by the North, insisting the recent agreements will help defuse tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.
On Monday, a group of demonstrators staged a protest at Seoul’s central train station where a North Korean delegation had arrived, burning a picture of Kim Jong-un. One sign at the protest read: “We’re opposed to Kim Jong-un’s Pyongyang Olympics!”
North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, which is in charge of inter-Korean affairs, called the protest a “shuddering, hideous crime”, urging Seoul to apologise and punish those involved.
“We will never tolerate hideous acts of the conservative hooligans who insulted the sacred dignity and symbol of the DPRK, and the dishonest behaviour of the South Korean authorities who connived at such acts,” a committee spokesman said via the official KCNA news agency.
Some South Korean opposition politicians and conservatives have also criticised the North’s participation in the Games.
“Just one month ago, acute tensions gripped the Korean peninsula, but the administration’s efforts to tackle the crisis through dialogue has led to North Korea’s participation in the Olympics,” Blue House spokesman Park Soo-hyun told a news conference.
“We’re confident that the Olympics will be a stepping stone to bring peace to the Korean peninsula, to Northeast Asia and the world.”
Additional reporting by Reuters