North Korea held a military parade early on Saturday to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party in a rare predawn event, South Korea’s military said.
The anniversary, celebrated with a raft of concerts and festivals, was closely watched around the region as it was seen as an event where leader Kim Jong Un could deliver messages to domestic and foreign audiences.
Analysts had said the North might unveil new strategic weapons, but state media has not released any images or reports on a parade.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it spotted signs that a parade involving large-scale military equipment and personnel took place in the capital Pyongyang but gave no further details.
“There was a sign that North Korea conducted a military parade this morning at Kim Il Sung Square, mobilising large scale equipment and personnel,” it said in a statement.
“South Korea and U.S. intelligence authorities are closely monitoring developments, including for the possibility that it was the main event.”
It was the first time that the parade has been held in the wee hours, a military source told Reuters.
“But I wouldn’t read too much into the timing for now because we don’t know whether state media would report on the parade,” the source said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addressed the predawn military parade held in Pyongyang, according to footage aired on state television.
Kim thanked the military for help in recovering from a series of damaging storms over the summer, and praised the country’s efforts to prevent any coronavirus outbreak.
The anniversary, was closely watched around the region as it was seen as an event where Kim could deliver messages to domestic and foreign audiences.
South Korean officials said this week that Kim could use the event as a “low intensity” show of power ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, as denuclearisation talks with Washington have stalled.
In August, Kim told a key politburo meeting that the anniversary celebrations must be “prepared at the best level with peculiar style as a great political festival.”
For weeks commercial satellite imagery has shown thousands of North Korean soldiers practicing marching, and South Korean officials have said the North could use the parade to unveil a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), or a new submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Foreign diplomats in Pyongyang have often been invited to observe past celebrations. But the Russian Embassy said on social media that all diplomatic missions have been advised this year to “refrain as much as possible” from travelling in the city, approaching the event venue and taking photos and videos.
The event comes as the isolated country carries out strict measures to prevent the new coronavirus – the secretive state has not reported any domestic infections, a claim that South Korea and the United States have questioned. State media said the curbs have caused delays in some of Kim’s key economic and construction projects, already dogged by international sanctions.