N.K. celebrates late founder’s birthday
North Korea was busy reporting events related to the 99th birthday of the regime’s late founder Kim Il-sung Friday, momentarily abandoning its ongoing appeals for outside food aid.
Hordes of North Koreans across the nation pledged their unchanging loyalty toward the late leader on the “Day of the Sun,” and a series of performances and events were held to honor his spirit, Pyongyang’s official media reported Friday. The Day of the Sun refers to the April 15 birth date of the late Kim.
The birthdays of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung and incumbent leader Kim Jong-il are considered two of the most important national holidays in the impoverished state, which spares no money in celebrating the two days every year.
Special distributions of food and presents are usually made during the two days, one of the main tools the communist regime uses to appease its starving population of 24 million.
North Korean observers had predicted Pyongyang would take elaborate care in celebrating the late Kim’s birthday this year to win strong approval over an ongoing three-generation succession to his youngest grandson Jong-un.
“Let’s work on improving the economy and reforming our agriculture and industry as we prepare to greet the 100th anniversary of President Kim Il-sung’s birthday,” Kim Yong Nam, chief of the North’s Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, was quoted as saying by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea aims to become a “strong, prosperous nation” and be recognized as a nuclear power by 2012, which marks the centennial of its founder’s birth.
Groups of North Korean defectors send off balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets Friday morning around Imjingak near the inter-Korean border as the communist regime celebrates its late founder Kim Il-sung’s birthday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
While claiming it is in dire need of outside food assistance, the reclusive North Korean regime is said to have spent at least $6 million on inviting foreign performers and officials to attend the celebration events this year. Local sources close to Pyongyang said at least 200 people from Russia, Poland and other former communist allies of the North arrived in the country via chartered planes with all expenses paid by the Kim regime.
North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world and its economic difficulties have deepened since it conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, leading to tougher international sanctions and economic isolation.
The World Food Program called on the international community last month to provide 434,000 tons of food aid to feed the most vulnerable sector ― children and pregnant women ― in the North, an assessment Seoul continues to doubt as inaccurate.
South Korea and the U.S. suspect that Pyongyang may be exaggerating its food conditions while secretly storing away food for its military as well as special distributions to be made during its founder’s birthday next year.
Washington, meanwhile, is currently reviewing whether to resume shipping food to the North and is expected to soon coordinate its move with Seoul, according to diplomatic sources here.
The U.S. suspended food aid to the North in 2008, shortly after the communist state left the six-nation denuclearization talks and conducted a second atomic test.
During their talks in Seoul on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan will discuss when and how to resume the stalled talks as well as food aid, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
Pyongyang, since late last year, has been expressing its willingness to rejoin the aid-for-denuclearization talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
While its longstanding ally China wants to restart talks at an early date, Seoul and Washington have been demanding the North to put into action its commitment to disarm and apologize for the two deadly attacks it made against Seoul last year.
Meanwhile, a collaboration of about 20 South Korean civic groups flew anti-North Korea propaganda balloons across the border Friday, upping tensions as the North was celebrating its biggest holiday.
Activists said they sent the balloons carrying some 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets from Imjingak, a tourism pavilion located south of the inter-Korean border village, which emerged as a potential flash point after Pyongyang threatened shooting at it unless the propaganda activities stop.
“It is our solemn duty to tell the truth to the North Koreans,” Fighters for Free North Korea, a group of North Korean defectors said in a press release.
North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive and totalitarian states, keeps its people largely isolated from outside news and strictly forbids them from possessing goods that are not distributed by the ruling Workers’ Party.
By Shin Hae-in (email@example.com