Pyongyang prepares big military show for Sunday

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Pyongyang prepares big military show for Sunday

Military officials say North Korea is preparing a massive military parade for Pyongyang this Sunday to mark the 70th anniversary of the country’s foundation - even as it negotiates denuclearization and peace with the United States.

A military official in Seoul said Monday the North appears to have been preparing for the parade since July, a month after its leader Kim Jong-un agreed to commit to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” during his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore.

Precisely how large the parade will be is unclear, as is whether the North will roll out any intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as it has in the past.

But the fact that this will be the 70th anniversary of the regime’s founding makes it a significant celebration.

Founding Day is special in North Korea, says Jeung Young-tae, head of the North Korea Research Institute, because the regime promotes founding leader Kim Il Sung’s anti-Japanese activities in the early 20th century as the main force behind the establishment of the country.

North Korea goes to great lengths to highlight Kim Il Sung’s personality cult, and pomp and circumstance like military parades are a major tool.

A local intelligence official, who asked not to be named, said Monday that Seoul authorities have yet to detect any signs that North Korea was planning to include its ICBMs in the parade or show off any new missiles not seen by the outside world before.

Seoul is watching for last-minute surprises, given the fact that the North transported several ICBM-mounted transporter erector launchers to an airfield near the Kim Il Sung Square in early February, where a military parade was held two to three days later to mark the 70th anniversary of the country’s army.

The ICBMs were said to have been stored in the Mirim Air Club, an airfield on the outskirts of Pyongyang where soldiers usually practice formation ahead of military parades.

The parade on Feb. 8 - on the eve of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics - featured goose-stepping troops and Hwasong-12 and 14 and 15 ICBMs. No new weapons were rolled out, and Seoul officials at the time said the regime appeared to have made efforts to keep the parade low-key to not disrupt the rapprochement with South Korea that was just picking up steam. Pyongyang did not allow the foreign press to cover the parade and gave no prior notice of it in its state-run media.

Seoul intelligence officials believe they’ll have a better idea of whether ICBMs will be in Sunday’s parade later this week, perhaps from Wednesday through Friday.

Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said satellite imagery from the Mirim Air Field appeared to show more troops than in the February parade, when 13,000 soldiers took part.

A former intelligence official said North Korea deployed what was believed to be an ICBM to the Mirim Air Field in July 2014, days before a military parade was held on the 61st anniversary of the armistice agreement, but decided not to show it during the event.

At the time, said the source, Seoul authorities concluded Pyongyang was sending a message to the United States to ease economic sanctions against the regime, which is why the North might make a similar call this Sunday.

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