Thu, Apr 15, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Pyongyang stages major exercise as tensions increase

‘DAY OF THE SUN’State media said the exercise was held to mark the birth anniversary of the nation’s founder and to show the military’s preparedness


North Korea has staged a major military exercise attended by leader Kim Jong-il, state media said yesterday, amid rising tensions with South Korea.

More displays of firepower are planned this month, South Korea’s defense ministry said separately, as Pyongyang observes two key anniversaries.

Kim and top military officials watched a drill by Large Combined Unit 567, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

It did not say when or where the exercise was held, but said it was staged to mark the “Day of the Sun” — the anniversary on April 15 of the birth of Kim Il-sung, Kim’s father and founding president.

Kim Jong-il expressed “great satisfaction over the fact that all the service persons of the unit are fully prepared politically and ideologically and in military technique to beat back any surprise attack of the enemy in time and defend the socialist country as firm as a rock,” the news agency said.

The exercise was also watched by legislators, party officials and cadres from state, social, government and military units, it said.

Kim promoted four officers to general, five to colonel-general, eight to lieutenant-general and 83 to major-general to mark the anniversary.

The South’s defense ministry said preparations were under way in the North “for a massive joint show of firepower by air and ground forces.”

In a report to parliament it said the display would be held to mark the Day of the Sun and the anniversary of the founding of the North’s military on April 25.

Pyongyang is in “festive mood” for the Day of the Sun, with streets bedecked with flags and placards and sports and arts events staged, the news agency said.

Cross-border tensions are high after an unexplained explosion sank a South Korean warship near the disputed Yellow Sea border on March 26 and after the North scrapped a tourism deal with the South.

The South has not so far accused the North of involvement in the blast. Its defense minister has raised the possibility that a mine or torpedo may have torn the 1,200-tonne corvette in two with the loss of 46 lives.

The area around the disputed border was the scene of deadly naval clashes between the North and South in 1999 and 2002 and of a firefight in November.

Weather permitting, the warship’s stern will be lifted onto a barge today — an operation which could give some clues to the disaster.

The ministry said the stern section would be partially covered with netting and photographers would be barred from taking close-up shots to protect military secrets.

The bodies of most of the crew are also believed trapped in the stern.

Sailors who survived the disaster have said a big external blast tore the ship apart, discounting theories that an explosion on board or a grounding sank it.

The wreckage will be taken to a naval base and examined by local and foreign experts probing the disaster.

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