N. Korea names new vice marshal
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea announced Tuesday it has elevated an Army general named Hyon Yong-chol to the post of vice marshal, the latest move in a military reshuffle that has cast an air of uncertainty over the regime.
The promotion came a day after the sudden dismissal of former vice marshal and regime heavyweight Ri Yong-ho, a move Pyongyang chalked up to illness but that some said could be a purge to bolster the power base of young leader Kim Jong-un.
Hyon, believed to be in his 60s, could replace Ri as chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), making him the top military figure behind Kim, especially if the regime is looking to balance military posts with relatively younger figures.
Hyon, though little known here, emerged in September 2010 when he was elevated to four-star general status during a party conference along with then heir-apparent Kim and his aunt and key aide, Kim Kyong-hui. He previously served as commander of an army corps near the country’s northeastern border with China.
Ri’s removal raised eyebrows — and prompted the defense ministry to “reinforce” its surveillance of the North — as it suggested the possibility of leadership instability following the death of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il in December.
Some analysts believe Ri’s dismissal came as a result of a power struggle with Choe Ryong-hae, a rising party official recently made a vice marshal. Under the scenario, Ri may have resisted Choe’s rise and been relieved in a demonstration of Kim’s control.
The moves come as Pyongyang is apparently moving to define the new regime for the outside world. State media recently unveiled images of Kim at a concert flanked by a woman that many suspect could be his wife. Analysts say the move is part of public relations campaign to give the young leader more gravitas.
It remains unclear, however, whether the military reshuffle signaled a new direction for the regime and some analysts warned that political intrigue might lead to instability in the impoverished state.
The South is closely watching for signs from the North to see whether Kim — thought to be in his late 20s — will choose a different path after Kim Jong-il’s military-first rule. Pyongyang, while hinting it might tinker with economic reforms, has reaffirmed its intent to hang on to its nuclear weapons program and has maintained a hard line against Seoul.