Report: North Korean Military Virtually Suspends Winter Training
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ North Korea’s hard-line military has drastically reduced its rigorous winter training since the start of the year, a South Korean newspaper reported Sunday.
A South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report, and U.N. military spokesman Jim Coles said he was not aware of any cut.
The reason for the reported reduction was unclear, although it could be related to severe food and fuel shortages North Korea has been suffering.
It coincided with a reported ideological re-education of North Korean soldiers and officers _ part of the North Korean leadership’s efforts to tighten its grip on the military amid deepening economic woes.
Quoting an unidentified Defense Ministry official, the Joong-Ang Ilbo, one of South Korea’s major daily newspapers, reported that North Korea’s air force has made 100 training sorties a day this year, down from 300 to 400 it maintained until the end of 1995.
The training maneuvers by the ground troops were also reduced to a ``minimum level,″ the newspaper said.
The North Korean military usually conducts vigorous winter training from November to April to coincide with major South Korean maneuvers and joint military drills South Korea conducts with the United States.
South Korea has been accusing North Korea of increasing military training and deploying more warplanes and other weaponry close to the already-tense border betweeeen the two arch-enemies.
North Korea says the South is just trying to divert attention from its political scandals and accuses the United States of increasing its own military activities in Korea.
Despite the economic difficulties, North Korea is said to be spending more than one-fourth of its gross national product on its 1.2-million-strong military, the world’s fifth-largest.
Communist North Korea’s economy has shrunk since the collapse of communism in the former East bloc deprived it of key trade partners, and last summer’s flooding devastated vast stretches of farmland.
In an unusual gesture, the country has asked the outside world for emergency aid to help feed its people. U.N. relief officials have raised the prospect of mass famine if there is no sharp jump in aid.