N. Korea focuses on internal unity on late leader’s birth anniversary: Seoul official

SEOUL– North Korea appears to have focused on boosting internal unity on the occasion of the 80th birth anniversary of the country’s late leader Kim Jong-il, instead of using it as a chance to send a new major message to the outside world, a Seoul official said Thursday.

North Korea has been holding various events to mark the anniversary, which falls on Feb. 16, with leader Kim Jong-un attending a national meeting held in the northwestern city of Samjiyon on Tuesday to pay tribute to his late father, according to the North’s state media.

“North Korea appears to have used the holiday as an opportunity to bolster internal unity, rather than as a venue to deliver messages to the outside world,” an official at the Ministry of Unification handling inter-Korean relations told reporters.

The North’s state media made no mention of inter-Korean and North Korea-U.S. relations, nor played up the country’s military buildup under the late leader, the official pointed out.

South Korea’s military earlier said it detected signs of the secretive regime gearing up for a large-scale military parade. But it could be held to mark the 110th birthday anniversary of Kim’s late grandfather and national founder, Kim Il-sung, on April 15, given that the preparations seem to be still at the early stage.

The North says Kim Jong-il was born on Feb. 16, 1942, in a Samjiyon area located at the foot of Mount Paektu. He ruled the country for nearly two decades and died in 2011.

“The selection of Samjiyon as a venue to celebrate this year’s anniversary could be aimed at stressing the legitimacy of Kim’s rule and his achievements by highlighting the Paektu bloodline of the Kim family,” the ministry official said.

Last week, Kim said, “The work of sprucing up Samjiyon City was victoriously concluded as a gift of loyalty to the 80th birth anniversary of Chairman Kim Jong-il.”

North Korea elevated the status of Samjiyon from a county to a city in 2019 and has called for transforming the area into the “wealthiest” region in the country.

In Pyongyang, foreign diplomats attended celebratory events for the national holiday, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, though it did not elaborate how many diplomatic officials were present or which countries they were representing.

Many countries have withdrawn their diplomats from the North after Pyongyang imposed strict border controls since 2020 to stave off the COVID-19 pandemic.

The North, meanwhile, has yet to report on Kim’s possible visit to the landmark mausoleum of his father in the capital as usual for the anniversary.

Kim has paid tribute at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the late leader’s body lies in state, every year since he took power in late 2011.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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