North Korea put its military might on display Wednesday during a huge parade of goose-stepping troops that featured dozens of missiles, as the United States pressed the communist country to begin nuclear disarmament efforts.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reviewed the 90-minute procession that marked the anniversary of the country’s army, Associated Press Television News reported from Pyongyang. Kim waved to the crowd for several minutes during the parade through the capital.
After soldiers marched in formation, 48 missiles of four different sizes were driven through Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang. It was not immediately known if the arsenal included the North’s latest model, known abroad as the Taepodong-2, which experts believe could reach parts of the United States.
While North Korea feted its troops, top White House adviser Victor Cha urged North Korean officials in New York to act on a nuclear disarmament pledge, warning them that U.S. patience was limited.
The North missed an April 14 deadline for shutting down its main bomb-making nuclear reactor under an international agreement. Pyongyang says it still is awaiting funds frozen in a separate banking dispute. Getting the money has been Pyongyang’s main condition for disarmament.
The funds have been freed for withdrawal, but for unknown reasons the North has not yet recovered them.
In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said Wednesday that the financial dispute was nearing a close but did not give a reason for his optimism.
'Columns of rocket units'
The North Korean parade marked the 75th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, which dates its origin to resistance movements against Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula before its liberation and division following World War II.
APTN footage showed goose-stepping troops and some missiles, apparently shorter-range models, being carried on military trucks and other vehicles.
“Columns of rocket units” marched in the parade, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said, “demonstrating the invincible might of the (army) equipped with modern offensive and defensive means.”
The North conducted its first-ever nuclear weapons test in October. However, experts believe it does not have a bomb design advanced enough to be placed on a missile.
Still, the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea warned the North could become a “moderate nuclear power” by 2010 if current disarmament negotiations fail.
U.S. Army Gen. B. B. Bell told lawmakers Tuesday in Washington that the North continues to produce missiles “and may ultimately aim to develop nuclear-armed missiles to threaten regional countries and even the U.S.”
North Korea’s leader has placed top priority on strengthening his armed forces, the backbone of his totalitarian rule over the country’s 23 million hunger-stricken people.
In a lengthy editorial marking the holiday, the North’s main newspaper called for providing troops with the best of the country’s scarce resources.
“We can live without candy, but not without bullets,” the Rodong Sinmun wrote.