SEOUL – North Korea’s announcement on Tuesday that it plans to mark the founding of the Korean People’s Army on Feb. 8, a day before the start of the Winter Olympics in the South Korean resort of PyeongChang, has led to fears it might jeopardize recently improved ties between the two countries.
State news agency KCNA announced the decision saying the North Korean regime, which had replaced Feb. 8 with April 25 as the founding day of its army in the 1970s, will commemorate the anniversary significantly but did not offer any further details.
Tuesday’s decision seems to be motivated by the fact that the date will mark the 70th anniversary of its regular army’s founding and confirms reports that Pyongyang has been preparing a grand military parade to mark the day.
Satellite images captured for several days between Dec. 26-Jan. 12 have showed movement of army vehicles and troops in the Mirim airfield, east of Pyongyang, possibly rehearsing for the parade.
A South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson told EFE that it was not yet confirmed if Pyongyang was planning a military parade, and added that Seoul and Washington would continue to monitor military movements in North Korea.
Regional experts fear that such a large parade on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics could jeopardize the recent thaw in relations between the two countries, which had agreed to march under the same flag in the Games.
The two countries restarted talks recently after South Korea and the US postponed their annual military drills – which Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal to invade its territory – so they do not coincide with PyeongChang 2018, and to avoid new weapons tests by North Korea during the Games.
Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday North Korea had condemned the burning of its national flag and photos of its leader Kim Jong-un during a protest rally by South Korean conservatives in Seoul against its planned participation in the upcoming PyeongChang Games.
In an article published by KCNA, the regime accused leaders of South Korean conservatives of unscrupulously letting out reckless remarks chilling the hardly-won atmosphere of improved inter-Korean relations.
South Korea’s presidential office on Tuesday had released a statement seeking public support for North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Games, saying it will bring about stability and peace on the Korean peninsula.
On Tuesday, Seoul also sent its first delegation to North Korea since early 2016, in the framework of agreements reached regarding the Olympic Games.
The 12-member team is expected to visit Mount Kumgang and Masikryong ski resort, both in the North Korean province of Gangwon, where joint cultural events and training for sporting events will be held ahead of the Winter Games.
Seoul is convinced that the rapprochement between the two Koreas, which have been technically at war for more than 65 years, can help restart dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang after tension between the two escalated in 2017.