PANMUNJOM, Korea – Elderly North Korean veterans pledged loyalty to their 20-something leader in Pyongyang during Korean War armistice commemorations Friday, an annual event being closely watched after Kim Jong Un reshuffled the military and revealed he's married.
Over the last two weeks, Kim has taken on the new military title of marshal, and replaced his army chief -- once thought to be a key mentor. Both moves were seen as an effort to build loyalty among the million-man armed forces and solidify his credentials as commander.
North Korea also revealed Wednesday that the stylish woman at Kim's side in some public appearances this month is his wife. Images of her walking with Kim arm-in-arm were carefully choreographed to show the new leader as modern, mature and down-to-earth, analysts said, and contrast sharply to his intensely private father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled for 17 years before his death in December.
Kim Jong Un and his wife weren't at Friday's event. Hundreds of aging veterans gathered in a huge auditorium as Choe Ryong Hae, the military's top political officer, stood beneath giant portraits of Kim Jong Il and North Korea founder Kim Il Sung and urged the crowd to "follow the leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un and win 100 out of 100 battles." North Korea later staged a fireworks display.
The celebration is meant to kindle patriotism and loyalty in North Koreans, and especially the young, by showcasing veterans who fought for their country, said Kim Yeon-su of Korea National Defense University in Seoul. The event was broadcast on North Korea's state TV.
While South Korea and the U.S.-led U.N. forces that fought in the Korean War call Friday the 59th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 conflict, North Korea calls it a celebration of "victory in the Fatherland Liberation War" and veterans streamed into the capital.
"Airports, railway stations and parking lots were crowded with delegates to the celebrations, their comrades-in-arms, families and relatives, people from all walks of life and youth and students," the official Korean Central News Agency said.
U.S. and South Korean officials marked the armistice at the border village of Panmunjom. Because no peace treaty was signed, the Korean Peninsula remains technically in a state of war.
Ahead of the anniversary, North Korea's Foreign Ministry reiterated its long-standing demand that the United States sign a peace treaty with North Korea to replace the armistice.
Washington says normal ties will only come after North Korea abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons and takes other steps. International nuclear disarmament talks have been stalled since late 2008, and animosity between the Koreas is high.