North Korea will stage a military parade to mark the communist state's 60th anniversary this week, an official said on Monday, amid heightening tensions over its nuclear programs.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told reporters that the parade would be held in Pyongyang on Tuesday, but did not elaborate.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Monday that the parade would be the largest-ever in terms of number of troops and military hardware displayed, quoting a government official it did not identify.
The official cited by Yonhap said weapons such as 240 mm multiple rocket launch systems and 105 mm howitzers have been observed at an air force base on the outskirts of Pyongyang where preparations for the parade were being made. The parade was to be held in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square, named after the country's founder, the official said.
The planned show of military might comes amid an impasse in international efforts to disable North Korea's nuclear programs. South Korea said last week the North has begun restoring its nuclear facilities in an apparent protest over not being removed from a U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
North Korea _ which conducted an underground nuclear test blast in October 2006 began disabling its main nuclear facilities late last year in exchange for international energy aid and other benefits. The US has insisted it first agree to a full inspection system for its nuclear programs if it wants to be taken off the terrorism list.
The parade also comes amid concerns over the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who usually attends and reviews military parades.
Kim, 66, has been absent from public view since mid-August, sparking speculation that his health has worsened. South Korea's intelligence service has said Kim has chronic heart disease and diabetes but that the ailments are not serious enough to affect his public activities.
The mass-circulation South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported Saturday that five Chinese physicians had entered North Korea and might have been called to treat Kim.
A spokeswoman at the South Korean National Intelligence Service said it has been trying to confirm whether Kim's health has worsened, but has yet to obtain any information backing such reports. She spoke on condition of anonymity, citing official policy.
Kim's health has been a focus of intense media attention because his fate is believed to be closely tied to that of the totalitarian state that he inherited from his father, Kim Il Sung, in communism's first hereditary transfer of power in 1994.