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(LEAD) N.K. sets up special operation forces amid military tensions

All News 15:11 April 17, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 5 paras)

SEOUL, April 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has formed special operation forces for the first time in an apparent show of military strength, an analysis on North Korea's media reports showed Monday, amid tensions over its nuclear and missile program.

The country unveiled the existence of the Korean People's Army (KPA) special forces for the first time at a military parade Saturday to mark the 105th birthday of late founder Kim Il-sung, according to an analysis on the reports by Yonhap News Agency.

North Korea's state-run TV station mentioned the name of the special operation forces after the navy, the air force and the strategic forces at the parade.

Military officers belonging to the special forces marched in formation while wearing black camouflage cream on their faces and black sunglasses, according to footage by the country's state TV station.

They were carrying a new type of rifle installed with grenade launchers, while wearing helmets with night-vision goggles, it showed.

"Once Supreme Commander Kim Jong-un issues an order, they will charge with resolve to thrust a sword through the enemy's heart like lighting over Mt. Paektu," said an announcer of the TV broadcaster, referring to the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula.

This photo, unveiled by the North Korean Central News Agency on April 16, 2017, shows a military parade held a day earlier in Pyongyang to mark the 105th birthday of late state founder Kim Il-sung. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The North's leader watched the parade at a large plaza in Pyongyang, returning a salute from goose-stepping soldiers marching across it.

The parade came amid speculation that Pyongyang may conduct its sixth nuclear test or launch an intercontinental ballistic missile around its key anniversaries in April.

North Korea's creation of the new forces is seen as aiming at countering South Korea and U.S. special forces' "beheading" operation to take out the North's leadership, analysts said.

Seoul and Washington's forces, including the U.S. Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden, joined this year's annual joint military drills for the first time apparently to practice removing the North Korean leadership in case of war.

North Korean Col. Gen. Kim Yong-bok, a former military leader of the KPA Unit 11, is presumed to be leading the special forces as a new commander, given that his name was mentioned by the country's media at the parade.

It is not the first time that Pyongyang has formed new military forces on the occasion of a military parade.

North Korea unveiled the existence of its strategic rocket forces for the first time at a military parade in 2012 to mark the centennial of Kim Il-sung's birth. In 2013, the country set up the strategic forces by expanding the rocket forces.

Meanwhile, Ri Pyong-chol, a key party official in charge of North Korea's development of strategic weapons, has assumed the title of an army general, photos carried by the main newspaper Rodong Sinmun showed.

Wearing the badge of a general on his military uniform, Ri, the first vice director of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK)'s central committee, paid tribute to late founder Kim Il-sung on Saturday, with leader Kim Jong-un and other officials.

Ri, who served as a former commander of the country's air forces, appears to play a key role in North Korea's nuclear and missile development program, experts say.

He also led strategic forces servicemen marching at a military parade held over the weekend to mark the 105th birthday of Kim Il-sung, photos showed.

Ri accompanied Kim Jong-un on his inspections of the February launch of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), called Pukguksong-2, and a high-thrust rocket engine test in March.

This photo, carried by North Korea's main newspaper Rodong Sinmun on April 16, 2017, shows Ri Pyong-chol, circled in red, a key party official in charge of North Korea's strategic weapons development. He is presumed to have assumed the title of an army general. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)


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