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 expand combat exercises and strengthen war preparations during his first appearance in nearly 40 days.
Mr Kim was pictured at a military meeting on Monday, having not been seen in public for almost a month – sparking speculation on his health with his second-longest break ever.
In the meeting attended by Mr Kim’s top military officials, 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. This marks 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 one for the “Missile General Bureau”.
The flag featured an image of the country’s largest nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile, Hwasong 17. The department was established in 2016, NK News reported.
Mr Kim sparked speculations about his health after skipping his third Politburo meeting on Sunday. The North Korean leader, who is often pictured during missile tests and party meetings, is known to take breaks from the public eye.
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 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 claims that North Korea stole $630m (£525m) in crypto assets in 2022.
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 [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 accusations of cyber theft and 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.