SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea's powerful military has held a mass rally to pledge loyalty to the country's new chief Kim Jong Un, vowing to become "rifles and bombs" to protect him, official media said Jan. 10.
NEW NORTH KOREAN leader Kim Jong Un, center front, poses for photos with North Korean soldiers on Jan. 1. The North's military generals have pledged to support the untested leader. (KCNA via AFP)
The North also announced a rare amnesty for prisoners as the untested, young leader tries to build support.
Service members promised to "become rifles and bombs to serve as Kim Jong Un first-line lifeguards and Kim Jong Un first-line death-defying corps", the official KCNA news agency said.
Kim Jong Il had appointed the son, who is ranked a general but has no known active military experience, as supreme commander of the 1.2 million-strong military.
On Jan. 8, state media showed Kim Jong Un driving a tank and giving orders to artillery, navy and air force units in an apparent attempt to bolster his credentials with the world's fourth-largest armed forces.
KCNA said armed forces chief Ri Yong Ho read the pledge of loyalty to Kim at the Jan. 9 rally in Pyongyang of the three branches of the military, which ended with a march past.
The message pledged to "wipe out the enemies to the last one if they intrude into the inviolable sky, land and seas of the country even 0.001 mm", it said.
The rally paid tribute to the "unswerving Songun will" of the new leader, a reference to an army-first policy which prioritizes their welfare over civilians in a country hit by severe food shortages.
The North separately announced an amnesty for prisoners to mark the upcoming birth anniversaries of its late leaders.
KCNA said the amnesty - the first since 2005, according to South Korea's unification ministry - would apply to "convicts" but did not give numbers or elaborate on who would benefit.
Rights groups say more than 200,000 men, women and children are held in prisons and labor camps, mostly for political and not criminal reasons.
The 70th anniversary of the birth of Kim Jong Il is on Feb. 16. The 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim's father and founding president Kim Il Sung falls on April 15.
The news agency said the decision embodies "the "noble, benevolent and all-embracing politics" of the late Kims.
The regime has vowed not to change course under its new leader and has kept up a stream of hostile commentary on South Korea.
Main newspaper Rodong Sinmun took aim Jan. 10 at a decision by the South and its U.S. ally to sign a joint plan on responding to any North Korean attacks.
An editorial described the joint plan and scheduled exercises related to it as "a conspiracy aimed at eventually triggering a war to invade the (North) with the help of a foreign power."
"The traitor Lee Myung Bak is at the forefront of fanning the madness for war," it said of the South's president.