Kim Jong-un reappears in public on eve of military parade, ordering North Korea to ‘prepare for war’
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his military to perfect the preparedness for war and display “matchless military strength” as he made his first public appearance in more than 36 days.
Mr Kim presided over his ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission meeting on Monday, after remaining missing from public view for almost a month and sparking speculation over his health with his second-longest break ever.
In the meeting attended by Mr Kim’s top military brass, the members discussed the major military and political tasks for 2023, the country’s official Korean Central News Agency reported on Tuesday.
The military branch responsible for nuclear missiles was renamed during the meeting. It was the first-ever mention of the branch in state media.
The commission discussed a series of tasks aimed to bring “great change” in the military, including “constantly expanding and intensifying the operation and combat drills” and “more strictly perfecting the preparedness for war”, the agency said.
They discussed organisational changes to “fundamentally improve and strengthen” military affairs, without specifying what the changes were.
Photos of the meeting released in state media revealed new flags for all Korean People’s Army (KPA) branches, including for the “Missile General Bureau”.
The flag featured an icon of the country’s largest nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile, Hwasong 17. The department, which was mentioned for the first time was established in 2016, NK News reported, citing the description on the flag.
Mr Kim sparked speculations around his health after he skipped his third Politburo meeting on Sunday. The North Korean leader, who is often pictured during missile tests and party meetings, is known for taking breaks from his public appearances.
His longest-ever hiatus was for 40 days in 2014 when he vanished from the public eye before reappearing with a cane. At that time, South Korea’s spy agency said he had a cyst removed from his ankle.
Mr Kim reappeared ahead of a widely expected military parade in Pyongyang, beginning on Tuesday night or Wednesday to mark the historic 75th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army.
Lee Sung-jun, the spokesperson of South Korea‘s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a briefing that the South Korean military has detected a “significant increase in personnel and vehicles” in areas related to parade rehearsals.
Mr Lee said the South Korean military was closely monitoring developments related to North Korea‘s possible creation of a new military bureau related to missiles, but didn’t provide further details.
Meanwhile, a confidential United Nations report has found that North Korea stole the highest cryptocurrency assets in 2022 than in any other year.
The country used increasingly sophisticated cyber techniques to target networks of foreign aerospace and defence companies, according to the report seen by Reuters on Monday.
“The variation in USD value of cryptocurrency in recent months is likely to have affected these estimates, but both show that 2022 was a record-breaking year for DPRK (North Korea) virtual asset theft,” the UN report said.
The report was submitted to the 15-member council’s North Korea sanctions committee on Friday,
North Korea has previously denied the accusation of cyber theft or cyberattacks.
Last week, North Korea warned the US and its allies against their intensifying joint drills, saying they will counter it with the “most overwhelming nuclear force”.
The stern remarks were in response to US defence secretary Lloyd Austin’s comments in South Korea about accelerating the deployment of advanced weapons on the Korean peninsula and expanding its combined military exercises with Seoul.
Pyongyang has launched more than 70 ballistic missiles in 2022 to conduct test launches of its biggest missiles, including banned nuclear-capable intercontinental missiles that can reach the US mainland.