North Korea is celebrating its leader's birthday - and stepping up implicit warnings it may soon test launch a long range missile. The North Korean messages coincide with new launches of North-bound leaflets by a human rights group.
North Korea put on mass dance performances to mark one of its biggest national holidays Monday - the birthday of leader Kim Jong Il. He is turning 67, amid lingering questions about how strongly his health was affected by a stroke he is believed to have suffered about eight months ago.
North Korea's official news agency issued a statement Monday implying the government plans to test launch a long range missile.
Missile and space technology are basically identical
Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency issued a statement vowing the North will press ahead with what it calls its "space development" program. The statement said "one will come to know later what will be launched," and called space development a sovereign right and a requirement for development.
Scientists say the rocket technology for so-called space development, such as launching satellites, and the technology for intercontinental ballistic missiles, are basically identical.
Kim Yong Nam, the Chairman of North Korea's Parliament and ceremonial head of state, issued a warning to South Korea.
He warns if South Korea's conservative government challenges us to the last despite repeated warnings, we will punish the traitors with the military and decisive action."
Seoul links aid to progress on nuclear program
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office last January, ended 10 years of no-strings-attached public aid and investment in the North. Mr. Lee has linked future aid to progress on issues such as getting rid of the North's nuclear weapons.
Human rights activists in South Korea marked Kim Jong Il's birthday by launching anti-Kim leaflets into North Korea by balloon. Some of the packets included North Korean currency. That could raise legal issues for the group, as it is illegal to possess the North's currency in the South, except for a set of specific circumstances.
Suzanne Scholte, a U.S.-based activist for North Korean human rights, says the leaflet launches are necessary because of the North's isolation.
"The free world knows for certain that the human rights conditions are the worst in the world," she said. "Because North Korea is also the most closed society in the world, we must find creative ways in order to reach out to them."
Obama willing to normalize relations
North Korea is expected to top the agenda when new U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in South Korea later this week. Clinton says President Barack Obama would be willing to normalize relations with the North if it verifiably abandons its nuclear weapons programs.