North Korea soldiers 'armed with nuclear backpacks' as tensions rise over US-South Korean military exercises

Report comes after series of weapons tests by Kim Jong-un's forces

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 31 August 2016 08:19
Comments
North Korean soldiers march during a mass military parade at Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang on October 10, 2015
North Korean soldiers march during a mass military parade at Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang on October 10, 2015

Elite North Korean soldiers are being armed with “nuclear backpacks”, a source has claimed as tensions increase over the authoritarian state’s attempts at military escalation.

An anonymous source told Radio Free Asia special units have been formed since March to carry the weapons and had been taking part in simulated training exercises with dummy bombs.

“Outstanding soldiers were selected from each reconnaissance platoon and light infantry brigade to form the nuclear backpack unit the size of a battalion,” the source from North Hamgyong province was quoted as saying.

The supposed weapons were said to weigh between 10 and 30 kilograms and be able to “spray radioactive material”, possibly uranium, on the enemy.

North Korea weapon tests

It was impossible to verify the account given to Radio Free Asia, which is funded by the US government.

North Korean propaganda showed soldiers wearing rucksacks bearing a yellow and black radiation symbol during a parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the national Workers' Party in October, while similar backpacks were seen at a procession in 2013.

The report came after Kim Jong-un’s administration reportedly executed a vice premier and banished two other top officials to rural areas for dreaded “re-education”.

South Korean officials said Yong-jin, a cabinet minister for education affairs, had been killed, possibly by a firing squad in July for unspecified anti-revolutionary and factional acts.

Reports said said Kim first faced an investigation because of the way he was seated during a meeting attended by the Supreme Leader.

Kim Yong-chol, a top ruling Workers' Party official in charge of anti-Seoul spy operations, and Choe Hwi, a senior party official dealing with propaganda affairs, had been banished to undertake “revolutionary re-education” programmes.

The reported purges came as North Korea continues to intensify its propaganda over joint military exercises being conducted by more than 75,000 American and South Korean troops in “Ulchi Freedom Guardian”.

While the North is known to have a small stockpile of nuclear warheads, experts are divided about its ability to mount them on a working missile delivery system.

In a statement earlier this month by US and South Korean forces described the exercises as “non-provocative in nature” and designed to enhance “readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula”.

11 most corrupt countries in world

But the drills provoked a stream of threats from Pyongyang, which said it would turn Seoul and Washington into a “heap of ashes” with a pre-emptive strike.

An editorial published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday accused Barack Obama’s administration of presiding over a “reckless arms build-up” that “cannot but spark off a fresh nuclear arms race among regional countries”.

North Korea has made considerable progress on weapons technology this year, including testing a submarine-launched missile for the first time, but it is unclear whether its nuclear material has been developed into a warhead able to be mounted on a missile.

It conducted its fourth nuclear explosion in January and followed it up with a series of missile tests, in spite of severe United Nations sanctions.

Additional reporting by AP

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in