North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that the country is facing war-like hardship during the global pandemic at his address at a ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the Korean War.

“We are faced with difficulties and hardship caused by the unprecedented global health crisis and prolonged lockdown no less challenging than how it was during the war,” Kim told thousands of veterans and guests from a tribune erected at the foot of the Monument to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War in the capital Pyongyang on Tuesday.

The North Korean leader promised that “just like the generation of victors… our generation will continue this beautiful tradition and turn this difficult decisive period into an even greater new victory.”

It’s not the first time that Kim, who, according to estimations by South Korean intelligence, has lost 10-20kg in recent months, has acknowledged that his country is going through a tough period. In April, he called it “the worst in history.” And, last month, the supreme leader warned that the food situation was “getting tense” in the country, but attributed the issue to the aftermath of last year’s typhoon.

According to South Korean media, food prices have skyrocketed in the North, with a kg of bananas costing $45. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Tomas Ojea Quintana, even urged the UN Security Council last year to reconsider the international sanctions imposed on the country over its nuclear and missile developments in order to avoid a famine.

Pyongyang officially claims that it doesn’t have any coronavirus cases and that the virus is defeated. However, this information is hard to verify as the Communist state has isolated itself from the world, sealing its borders and going into a strict lockdown more than a year ago. Reports in South Korean and Japanese media dispute Pyongyang’s claim that the country is Covid-free and point to its insufficient testing.

The National Conference of War Veterans was held to mark the signing of the armistice in the Korean War of 1950–1953, in which the North, supported by China, fought against the US-backed South Korea. The conflict, which quickly became a war of attrition, claimed the lives of over 33,000 American and 400,000 North Korean soldiers. 

The ceremony in Pyongyang was staged outdoors for the first time despite temperatures of around 35 degrees Celsius and high humidity. It included speeches by officials and a fireworks display. According to the photos from the event, nobody in the crowd wore face masks or followed social distancing rules.

The Korean Peninsula technically remains in a state of war as the two sides never signed an actual peace treaty and their relations remain strained. On Tuesday, Pyongyang and Seoul restored communication channels, which remained shut for over a year, in a sign of a thaw between the neighbors.

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