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North nixes plan to invite foreign press to military parade

Feb 07,2018
BEIJING - North Korea aborted plans to invite foreign journalists and envoys to a military parade that is intended to highlight the 70th anniversary of its army founding day this Thursday, saying it will celebrate the event on its own, a source with knowledge of Pyongyang affairs told the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday.

The abrupt decision runs contrary to those concerning previous military parades, like those in April 2017 or October 2015, when some 100 reporters from the foreign press were allowed to come to Pyongyang to cover its goose-stepping soldiers and latest military equipment.

The source, who wished not to be named, said the North Korean Embassy in China had informed foreign reporters late last month to start preparing for visa applications, saying they might soon be allowed to enter Pyongyang, without mentioning the military parade.

But since early last week, the embassy has told correspondents that the North Korean leadership diverted plans for the event and decided not to allow international coverage for reasons unexplained.

One private Japanese media outlet, that was permitted to stay in the North until early this month in order to report a different story, was said by the source to have asked if they could stay longer to cover the parade, only to be rejected.

Other sources who spoke with the paper said that the regime might have grown self-conscious of international scrutiny since it was planning a military event on the eve of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Still, preparations appear to be ongoing internally.

Satellite imagery from Mirim Air Club, an airfield on the outskirts of Pyongyang, where preparations for the parade are being held, showed that approximately 13,000 troops were practicing on training grounds last Monday, up from 12,000 troops on Jan. 28, according to 38 North, a North Korea analysis website run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

Only a small group of artillery pieces and armored fighting vehicles were visible at the facility, the website noted, which was not unusual given that some of these are likely stored in nearby military facilities. No signs of ballistic missiles or unmanned aerial vehicle launchers were detected yet.

But South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told the parliamentary Intelligence Committee on Monday in a briefing that transporter erector launchers have recently been spotted at the Mirim Air Club, adding that some 50,000 civilians have convened in downtown Pyongyang to practice formation.

The spy agency also said Hwang Pyong-so, former director of the North Korean Army’s Politburo, and his deputy, Kim Won-hong, appear to have been fired from their posts. The NIS had said in a previous briefing that they were being punished for holding “impure attitudes” toward leader Kim Jong-un.

Hwang appears to be undergoing ideological re-education, according to the NIS, while Kim Won-hong, who also held several posts in the Workers’ Party, was expelled from it, which, in the North Korean regime, spells the end of his political career. Kim Jong-gak, former defense minister, has been tapped to replace Hwang. Kim Won-hong’s successor was not mentioned.

BY YEH YOUNG-JUNE, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]