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North Korea: Hungry and poor, but proud

CNN correspondent invited to massive military parade

red April 25, 1997
Web posted at: 11:03 a.m. EDT (1503 GMT)

In this story:

From CNN Correspondent Mike Chinoy

PYONGYANG, North Korea (CNN) -- North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il reviewed a massive military parade in Pyongyang on Friday celebrating the army's 65th anniversary.



The parade

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CNN was the only international news organization invited to photograph the goose stepping display of precision marching by thousands of North Korean troops in a square named after Kim's father, the late president Kim Il Sung.

CNN's Mike Chinoy on the celebration...
chinoy The celebration...

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The reason...

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Rare public appearance

It was a rare public appearance by Kim Jong Il and his first before a Western TV camera. Smiling and waving, he appeared relaxed and firmly in command.

kim jong

Kim, supreme commander of the country's 1.1 million-strong military, has yet to be formally confirmed in two key posts held by his father -- president of the country and general-secretary of the ruling Workers' Party.

Korea-watchers believe Kim is likely to formally assume the posts after the third anniversary of his father's death in July.

Columns of Korean People's Army guard units, military academy cadets, "worker-peasants red guards and young red guards" attended the parade, the communist country's Korean Central News Agency said.

April 25 is marked in North Korea as the official 65th anniversary of the people's army, which traces its birth to the fight against Japanese occupation, before the two Koreas were divided after Japan's defeat in World War II.

War talk, peace talks

In a speech to the assembled soldiers, the North Korean army's chief of staff, Kim Yong Chun, warned the United States that North Korea would prevail if war broke out.

marching

The hardline language appeared to reflect doubts in the armed forces about the value of diplomatic engagement with Washington.

Despite some preliminary discussions, the North has balked at joining peace talks proposed by the United States and South Korea with Chinese participation. One reason for this is that the military is not convinced North Korea's cautious efforts at opening up have produced any results.

In comments to CNN, North Korean officials confirmed earlier reports that the country will only take part in the talks if the United States ends its economic embargo of the North, grants Pyongyang diplomatic recognition and offers more food aid than Washington has been willing to provide so far.

Defector claim denied

Hwang Jang Yop, a longtime member of North Korea's inner circle who defected earlier this year and arrived in South Korea a few days ago, caused a sensation when he declared that Pyongyang has an arsenal of nuclear and chemical weapons capable of destroying South Korea and Japan.

But a senior North Korean official dismissed that claim on Friday, telling CNN Hwang was not privy to military secrets and that North Korean does not have -- or want -- a nuclear bomb.

The official accused South Korea of orchestrating Hwang's provocative remarks to deflect attention from Seoul's own domestic problems.

Severe food shortage

North Koreans say their food crisis, triggered by three successive years of catastrophic floods, is severe.

Amid reports of some North Koreans forced to eat grass and tree bark, international aid agencies have warned that without massive help, millions of people could be at risk in the coming months.

The food shortages have led to speculation about a political collapse in North Korea. But by parading thousands of soldiers through downtown Pyongyang, the government is trying to send a different message.

This country may be hungry and poor but it is still proud and tough and those who believe otherwise do so at their peril.

 
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