A top North Korean military official appeared in public wearing the insignia of the four-star rank, spurring speculation that he might have been demoted from the vice marshal rank awarded to him only a few months ago.
The North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Wednesday carried a front-page photo showing Hyon Yong-chol, chief of the North Korean military's general staff, wearing a uniform bearing four stars on the epaulets while saluting next to leader Kim Jong-un.
They were on a visit to Pyongyang's Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the mausoleum where the bodies of North Korea's national founder Kim Il-sung and late leader Kim Jong-il are preserved, for an event to commemorate Wednesday's 67th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party.
The picture raised speculation that Hyon might have been demoted, possibly to have him take responsibility for a series of North Korean soldiers defecting to South Korea in recent months and degenerating discipline in the military.
In July, North Korea announced Hyon's promotion to the rank of vice marshal, a day after abruptly announcing that the then chief of the military's general staff, Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, had been relieved of all of his posts because of illness.
The vice marshal insignia bears only one star larger than the ones in the four-star insignia.
North Korean state media referred to Hyon only as "comrade Hyon" Wednesday without identifying his rank.
Even if Hyon had been demoted, however, he is believed to be retaining his posts, including the chief of the military's general staff, because state media listed his name according to the previous order of ranking. (Yonhap)