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N. Korea Prepares Military Parade for Country's 55th Anniversary - 2003-09-08


North Korea is getting ready for a massive military parade Tuesday to mark the 55th anniversary of the founding of the communist state.

North Korea's official media say the parade through Pyongyang will lead Tuesday's national day celebrations. It is expected to feature 20,000 troops as well as tanks, artillery and missiles.

David Holloway, operations chief with the International Risk consulting firm in Hong Kong, says the show of muscle will be the largest military parade held in North Korea for more than a decade. The reclusive state has curbed such displays in recent years, partly because of its worsening poverty.

"It is the one part of the country they are very proud of and can show the rest of the world," he commented. "They cannot show industry and poor people. So their only showcase to the world is their military."

The hard-line communist state's 55th anniversary comes as the United States, Japan, China, South Korea and Russia try to resolve a nuclear crisis that began last year when U.S. officials said the North admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program.

The six countries held talks in Beijing in late August, but they were inconclusive. Negotiations to set up a second round are said to be under way.

A leading South Korean newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, reported Monday that North Korea has developed a new multistage ballistic missile with a range of 4,000 kilometers. The report quotes unnamed government sources. The missile would be capable of reaching all of Japan and islands in the western Pacific that are under U.S. control.

Analyst David Holloway says the weapon, if it actually exists, could be displayed at Tuesday's parade.

"There are a lot of stories about them having developed a longer-range missile, which could reach as far as Guam," said Mr. Holloway. "I think wait and see what is displayed, what is new which has not been shown before. Because the temptation has got to be for North Koreas to put all their big toys on display rather than hold anything back."

In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said the North should refrain from provocative action. Mr. Yoon returned Sunday from Washington where he discussed the North Korea issue with President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Pyongyang has threatened to stage a nuclear test if the United States does not meet its demand for a non-aggression pact.

He also said he expects the United States to "actively" address North Korean security concerns at the next round of six-nation talks. So far Washington has rejected Pyongyang's demand for a non-aggression treaty, but it has said it has no plans to attack the North.