North Korea kept the world on edge today over an expected missile launch while turning its own energies to celebrating leaders past and present amid soaring tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The United States warned North Korea it was skating a “dangerous line” as South Korea remained on heightened alert for any missile test,that could start a whole new cycle of tensions in a region already on a hair-trigger.
The North’s state media focused its attention,however,on today’s first anniversary of new leader Kim Jong-Un becoming head of the ruling Worker’s Party and next Monday’s birthday celebrations for late founder Kim Il-Sung.
The official party mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun praised Kim Jong-Un as the “No 1 man of conviction and will” and credited him with the success of the North’s long range-rocket launch in December and February’s nuclear test.
“History has never seen any socialist leader like him,” the newspaper said. The launch and test,along with the UN sanctions imposed for each,are at the core of the current crisis that has seen Pyongyang threaten nuclear strikes against the United States and its allies.
South Korean intelligence says the North has prepared two mid-range missiles for imminent launch from its east coast,despite warnings from ally China to avoid provocative moves at a time of soaring military tensions.
Although Pyongyang has not announced any launch,many observers believe it will take place during the build-up to the April 15 birthday anniversary.
State media said foreign delegations had already begun arriving in Pyongyang for the event,which is one of the most important dates on the North’s calendar.
The missile launch may also coincide with some high-profile visits to South Korea,with both US Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Seoul tomorrow.
Yonhap news agency quoted military sources as saying the North was moving multiple missiles around in an apparent bid to confuse outside intelligence-gatherers about its intentions.
“North Korea… with its bellicose rhetoric,its actions,has been skating very close to a dangerous line,” US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday.
“Our country is fully prepared to deal with any contingency,any action that North Korea may take or any provocation that they may instigate,” Hagel added.
The South Korea-US Combined Forces Command has raised its “Watchcon” status from 3 to 2 to reflect indications of a “vital threat”,while the South’s national police force has also been placed on heightened terror alert.