North Korea says its pilots fought in the Vietnam War

SEOUL, South Korea, AP

North Korea sent fighter jet pilots to combat U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, the communist state’s official news media reported.

It was the North’s first official confirmation that its pilots participated in the Vietnam War.

North Korea’s state-run Radio Pyongyang and Korean Central Television Station reported late Friday that representatives from the North’s ruling Workers’ Party met in October 1966 and decided to support North Vietnam during the war.

The reports quoted the late President Kim Il Sung, the father of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, as telling the pilots to “fight in the war as if the Vietnamese sky were your own sky,” said Yonhap, the South’s national news agency, which monitored the North Korean reports.

The reports also said North Korea provided North Vietnam with “numerous weapons and ammunition as well as 2 million sets of uniforms.”

They did not reveal how many North Korean pilots were dispatched to the war.

Lee Chul Soo, a North Korean air force captain who defected to South Korea in 1998, had earlier said that over 800 North Korean pilots flew Soviet-provided MiG jets to help North Vietnamese troops fight against U.S. forces.

North Korea and Vietnam had remained close allies until bilateral relations began cooling with Hanoi’s establishment of diplomatic ties with Seoul in 1992. South Korea is one of the largest foreign investors in Vietnam.

Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea’s national assembly and its No. 2 man, will visit Hanoi July 11 July 14 to discuss bolstering ties. Kim, the ceremonial head of state and the highest ranking North Korean official to visit Hanoi, was invited by Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong.

President Luong plans to visit South Korea in late August, a South Korean foreign ministry official said.

South Korea also participated in the Vietnam War on the side of the United States. From 1965 to 1973, 320,000 South Korean soldiers were sent to Vietnam. The maximum number of South Korean troops there at one time was 50,000. More than 5,000 South Koreans were killed.