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North Korea may hold military parade on eve of Olympics, analysts say

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea may be preparing to hold a military parade on the eve of next month’s winter Olympics in South Korea, analysts and diplomats say, even as the two countries have sought to mend ties.

Torchbearers poses for photographs as they participate in the Olympic torch relay on the Grand Unification Bridge which leads to the truce village Panmunjom, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The North’s continued development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions has spurred more sanctions and talk of possible military strikes by U. S. officials.

Western diplomats in Pyongyang have said some international defence officials received invitations to a 70th anniversary commemoration of the Korean People’s Army on Feb 8.

Recent commercial satellite imagery shows formations of North Korean troops marching at a parade training ground, said Scott LaFoy, an analyst with the website NK Pro, which monitors North Korea.

“The parade appears to involve 28 formations of infantry or other military personnel, a traditional military band, and possibly additional personnel,” LaFoy wrote in an analysis of the satellite imagery.

Some military vehicles could also be involved, he added.

If North Korea conducts a large military demonstration on February 8, it would come a day before the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

That event will see athletes from the two sides march under a single flag, in a demonstration of unity after kicking off official talks for the first time in two years in January.

A display of military might by Pyongyang could threaten that fragile detente.

The Mirim Parade Training Ground, where the formations were spotted, is typically only very active before parades, which in past years have been used to showcase the North’s growing missile arsenal, LaFoy said.

The planned parade appears to be smaller than last year’s massive display, and imagery shows no evidence of large vehicles of the type that might carry missiles, he said.

On Tuesday, Michael Spavor, director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, which promotes business and cultural ties with the North, said on Twitter he had heard reports of such a parade, adding that his group would offer a trip for tourists to watch it.

Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez