Young NK leader assumes title of marshal
By Kim Young-jin
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been given the title of marshal, Pyongyang’s state media said Wednesday, the latest move to solidify his control over the country’s 1.2 million-strong army.
Kim, thought to be in his late twenties, takes the post from his father, the late Kim Jong-il who was made generalissimo following his death in December.
"A decision was made to award the title of Marshal of the DPRK to Kim Jong-un, supreme commander of the Korean People's Army," the Korean Central News Agency said in special report. DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
On Monday, Pyongyang relieved army chief Ri Yong-ho from all his posts and the next day elevated a little-known general, Hyon Yong-chol, to the rank of vice marshal, in what was seen as a purge and elite-level power play. Hyon was awarded four-star general status in 2010 along with then heir-apparent Kim and his aunt and key aide, Kim Kyong-hui.
While many suspect Hyon will replace Ri as the army’s chief of staff, which would make him the military’s number two behind Kim, no official announcement has been made.
“Kim Jong-il was awarded the title of marshal four months after he took the role of supreme commander, so it is natural that Kim Jong-un will take a similar path,” said Baek Sung-joo, an analyst with the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. He added that the commandership gave him the power to control the army, while the title of marshal was more for “political symbolism.”
Kim has been awarded titles in rapid succession following his father’s death by heart attack. His leadership was seen to be cemented in April when he became first secretary of the Workers Party and first chairman of the National Defense Commission.
Seoul officials said the new title was an internal matter and that no unusual signs had been observed in the North.
Pyongyang’s propaganda machine is also in full gear to bolster Kim’s public image, recently unveiling images of him flanked by a woman widely suspected to be his wife. Analysts said the images were released to give Kim more gravitas and perhaps signal a more open approach.
It remains unclear whether the recent moves will signal a new direction as Pyongyang has given all indications it will hang on to its nuclear weapons program and has maintained a hard line against Seoul.
Kim was given four-star general status in 2010 in a clear sign he had been tapped as heir apparent.
An hour before the report, the state media issued an alert of an "important announcement" at noon.