North Korea deploying troops, weapons near Pyongyang

A South Korean human rights activist holds up a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a rally demanding release of American Aijalon Mahli Gomes in North Korea, in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Korea Representative Office in Seoul. File photo: AP.  

North Korea is deploying troops, artillery and tanks near Pyongyang in apparent preparation for a massive military parade marking key national events later this year, South Korea said on Tuesday.

The military buildup near the capital began in mid—July amid high tensions on the peninsula, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a report submitted to a parliamentary committee.

“Preparation for a massive national event is under way” in North Korea and the move is presumably related to a key Workers’ Party meeting in September and the 65th anniversary of the party’s founding in October, it said.

North Korea would likely use the military assets to stage a parade in Pyongyang, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity citing department policy.

North Korea often marks important national holidays with military parades, often featuring newly developed missiles and weapons.

North Korea said in June that it would elect new ruling Workers’ Party leaders in a party conference in early September, sparking speculation that the move is aimed at boosting a government campaign to hand over power from leader Kim Jong Il to a son.

It’s widely believed that Mr. Kim is preparing to transfer power to his third and youngest son, Kim Jong Un, and many North Korea watchers say next month’s party meeting is aimed at giving the son a key party job.

Speculation on the succession intensified after the 68—year—old Kim suffered a reported stroke in 2008, with Mr. Kim’s apparently falling health prompting concerns about instability and a possible power struggle in the nuclear—armed country if he were to die without anointing a successor.

The North’s ties with South Korea were plunged to their lowest point in years when a Seoul—led international investigation in May blamed Pyongyang torpedoing in March the South Korean warship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. North Korea denies involvement.

The two Koreas officially remain at war because the 1950—53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

China’s top nuclear envoy is to visit Seoul later this week to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and his recent trip to Pyongyang, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

Wu Dawei met senior North Korean officials last week in Pyongyang and discussed the resumption of six—nation talks on ending the North’s nuclear program. Pyongyang’s state media reported that Mr. Wu and North Korean officials reached a full consensus of views on all the matters discussed but didn’t provide details.

North Korea walked away from the nuclear disarmament talks last year in protest at an international condemnation of a long—range rocket launch. Prospects for restarting the talks were put into doubt after the warship sinking.

Former President Jimmy Carter, meanwhile, plans to leave for North Korea on Tuesday to try to gain the freedom of an American imprisoned for illegally entering the communist country, U.S. officials said. Aijalon Mahli Gomes was arrested in January before later being sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $700,000.

North Korea agreed to release Gomes if Mr. Carter were to come to bring him home, a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press. The official and a second who confirmed the trip spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 8:07:08 PM |

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