| Television pictures show Kim Jong-il (second from right) at an undisclosed air force base in North Korea on Friday. (Reuters)
Seoul, Jan. 18 (Reuters): Kim Jong-il, leader of Communist North Korea, has visited an air force base and praised the soldiers for their defence of their country in the face of what he called moves towards war by the enemy, state media said today.
The reclusive North and the US have accused each other for the failure so far to find a diplomatic way out of a nuclear crisis on the peninsula that began last October when US officials said Pyongyang had admitted to a nuclear arms programme.
A Russian envoy arrived in North Korea today in search of a solution to the nuclear crisis as a UN official said millions of people in the impoverished Communist state were short of food.
Murmurs of war underlined the seriousness of the crisis distracting Washington from Iraq as Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Losyukov flew to Pyongyang from Beijing after talks with Chinese officials on how to proceed.
Kim, who holds the position of supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, yesterday visited the army’s flying unit no. 860, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.
“During his inspection he expressed satisfaction that all the service persons of the unit are firmly defending the territorial airspace of the country to cope with the ever more undisguised war moves of the enemy,” KCNA said.
“(He) highly appreciated their feats and set forth tasks that would serve as guidelines in increasing the combat power of the unit,” KCNA said without giving details of Kim’s instructions.
Isolated North Korea keeps an army of about one million men, the fifth-largest in the world, with about 70 per cent of those forces in the south of the country near the heavily militarised border with South Korea.
The army has about 11,000 artillery pieces positioned within range of the South Korean capital, Seoul.
Kim’s army forms the backbone of power of the ruler of the world's only Communist dynasty who has eschewed the post of President, preferring to govern as military chief. US officers in the demilitarised zone that has separated the two Koreas since the 1950-53 Korean War said they had seen some increase in the size of North Korean patrols in the zone, but added that this had become normal practice whenever tension rises along the last major Cold War divide.
The latest crisis erupted last October when Washington said Pyongyang admitted to enriching uranium for atomic arms, and escalated as North Korea expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors last month, pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty last week and threatened to resume missile tests.