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N. Korea military parade on eve of South Olympics sends mixed messages

BEIJING / SEOUL (Kyodo) -- North Korea on Thursday sent mixed messages at its military parade staged on the eve of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, with inter-Korean relations improving but security tensions between Pyongyang and the United States lingering.

    Amid fears the event could hamper a thaw with Seoul, it was not shown live on TV, strengthening the view that North Korea tried to give the impression it was only for domestic propaganda purposes, not an act of provocation against its neighbor.

    At the parade, meanwhile, Pyongyang displayed what appeared to be intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the Hwasong-15 missile, capable of delivering a nuclear weapon anywhere in the United States, in a thinly veiled threat to Washington.

    International attention was focused on whether North Korea would demonstrate its nuclear capability at the parade in a show of force to the United States, following the conciliatory gesture it made toward South Korea at the start of the year.

    The country's leader Kim Jong Un, clad in a black winter coat and matching hat, reviewed the parade from a balcony overlooking Kim Il Sung Square named after his grandfather and North Korea's founder, TV footage showed. He was accompanied by his wife.

    During the 90-minute parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army, Kim frequently smiled, while a stream of goose-stepping soldiers and columns of tanks passed through the square in the heart of Pyongyang.

    Kim was flanked by high-ranking military officials. In a rare public speech, Kim did not make any comments on his nation's nuclear development, but pledged to sustain "high-level military preparations" to counter the United States.

    South Korea's Yonhap News Agency quoted a government source as saying that around 50,000 people, including about 13,000 soldiers participated in the parade.

    Since the last military parade on April 15, 2017, the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founding leader, Pyongyang has launched a series of ICBMs.

    Following the third ICBM test in November, when the Hwasong-15 was fired, Kim declared his country had "finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force."

    In a surprise move, Pyongyang agreed last month to send athletes as well as coaches and officials to the Olympics, and a high-level delegation including the nation's ceremonial leader Kim Yong Nam and Kim Jong Un's younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, is set to arrive in the South on Friday.

    Some diplomatic experts see North Korea's moves as being aimed at paving the way for an easing of the international sanctions against it by improving ties with South Korea.

    South Korean President Moon Jae In will meet Saturday with North Korea's high-level delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, his office said Thursday.

    In contrast, Pyongyang, which did not allow foreign media to visit North Korea to cover Thursday's military parade, has so far shown no signs of abandoning its nuclear and missile programs while maintaining its hostile posture toward the United States.

    Earlier Thursday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency quoted a senior Foreign Ministry official as saying Pyongyang has no intention of having talks with Washington during the Olympics.

    The official made the comment after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence did not rule out the possibility of making contact with North Korean officials as he leads a U.S. delegation to the Olympics.

    U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has committed to bolstering pressure on North Korea until the Asian nation takes concrete steps for denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

    The anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army was previously marked on April 25, the day in 1932 when Kim Il Sung established the first revolutionary army.

    Pyongyang, however, said last month that Feb. 8 will be marked as the date that the Korean People's Army was founded, as that is the day in 1948 that country founder Kim began a transformation that culminated in the establishment of the KPA.

    North Korea did not announce it would carry out a military parade, but the South Korean government said rehearsals were being held at an airfield in Pyongyang, with the mobilization of more than 10,000 troops.

    Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong also attended the parade on Thursday, the TV footage showed.


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