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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
North Korean authorities will host a series of military anniversary events in Pyongyang including a possible military parade around February 8, just one day before Winter “Peace” Olympics kick-off in Pyeongchang, South Korea, an invitation seen by NK News on Wednesday shows.
Sent to defense attachés, deputies, and spouses accredited to the DPRK, the invitation requests participation in celebrations surrounding a forthcoming Korean People’s Army (KPA) anniversary which one regular visitor to the North said would likely include a military parade.
The invitation, sent “upon the authorization from the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, DPRK,” requests foreign defense attachés to “attend festival functions held in Pyongyang on the occasion of 70th anniversary of the transformation of the Korean People’s Army into a regular revolutionary armed forces (8th Feb 2018).”
Though not providing specific details about the events, the invitation said delegations “shall be attending several festival functions held on the occasion of the anniversary as well as meet relevant officials of Ministry of People’s Armed Forces and discuss issues of mutual interest upon your request.”
Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, which regularly brings foreigners to North Korea, confirmed hearing details about the anniversary and possible event format to NK News.
“A few of my partners hinted at the high probability of having a military parade on February 8 because it’s the 70th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army,” Spavor said on Wednesday. “It’s been a big year of accomplishment for the military in the areas of science and technology.”
But a military parade just one day before Winter Olympics kick-off would likely draw criticism from much of the international community, especially given the U.S. and South Korea’s recent decision to delay scheduled military drills until after the Olympics finishes.
It may also put a dampener on South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s hopes to hold what he calls a “peace” Olympics on the Korean peninsula.
Last year’s military parade drew significant media attention due to Pyongyang’s decision to invite dozens of international journalists and roll-out multiple new types of military equipment, including prototype intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) designed to target the U.S.
“It may not be called ‘a parade,’ but it is highly likely that there would be some kind of event taking place at Kim Il Sung Square,” said NK Pro analyst Fyodor Tertitskiy about events likely to surround the February 8 anniversary.
“I don’t think that the DPRK even perceives this as a hostile action: they never canceled their regular parades before and were never requested to do so,” he said.
But South Korean authorities will be in a difficult spot if a parade similar to last year’s takes place just 24 hours prior to the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, having recently welcomed North Korean participation in the Games and ongoing discussions on possible inter-Korean participation in some sporting events.
One tourism industry expert said that given the time of year the events were likely to be “smaller, or indoors.”
I don’t know of any parades in recent years that took place at this time, mainly I would think because it is still quite cold in February and conditions can be a bit treacherous,” Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, told NK News. “April is usually optimum parade time, plus has other major anniversaries.”
A Ministry of Unification (MOU) official told NK News on Wednesday that Seoul was aware of the significance of the date in North Korean history, but that the ministry “cannot definitely say” they were aware an event would take place.
“We assume that some event will be happening on February 8 and we are keeping a close eye on the situation,” the official explained.
However, the MOU declined to comment on whether the anniversary had been raised in ongoing inter-Korean negotiations at the DMZ.
A spokesperson for the Blue House told NK News that they had “nothing to comment” about the anniversary and possible parade.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News