AFAT North Korea Flag
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea is preparing to stage a military parade Tuesday to mark the communist state's 60th anniversary, an official said.
The planned show of might comes after South Korea said the North has begun restoring its nuclear facilities and amid concerns over the health of North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Il, who usually attends military parades.
"We know that the North has been preparing hard for tomorrow's event despite various internal difficulties," South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told reporters without elaborating on the parade's size or details.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Monday that the parade in Pyongyang would be North Korea's largest-ever in terms of number of troops and military hardware displayed, quoting a government official it did not identify.
North Korea, which conducted an underground nuclear test blast in October 2006, began disabling its main nuclear facilities late last year in exchange for international energy aid and other benefits. The U.S. has insisted it first agree to a full inspection system for its nuclear programs if it wants to be taken off the terrorism list.
South Korea said last week the North has begun restoring its nuclear facilities in an apparent protest over not being removed from a U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
Late Monday, North Korean Premier Kim Yong Il, one of the country's top officials, accused the U.S. of raising tension on the Korean peninsula and warned that his country will "resolutely and mercilessly retaliate against" any attempt to infringe upon its "sovereign dignity and interests."
The premier's remarks at a meeting of top government, military and party officials, were carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. North Korea regularly employs threatening rhetoric in relation to the United States.
North Korea's supreme leader has been absent from public view since mid-August, sparking speculation that his health has worsened.
South Korea's intelligence service has said Kim Jong Il, 66, has chronic heart disease and diabetes but that the ailments are not serious enough to affect his public activities.
The mass-circulation South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported Saturday that five Chinese physicians had entered North Korea and might have been called to treat Kim.
A spokeswoman at the South Korean National Intelligence Service said it has been trying to confirm whether Kim's health has worsened, but has yet to obtain any information backing such reports. She spoke on condition of anonymity, citing official policy.
Kim's health has been a focus of intense media attention because his fate is believed to be closely tied to that of the totalitarian state that he inherited from his father, Kim Il Sung, in communism's first hereditary transfer of power in 1994.