Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Elevation of General a New Clue in Pyongyang ; Kim Seen as Reining in Military with Promotion of a Little-Known Officer

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Elevation of General a New Clue in Pyongyang ; Kim Seen as Reining in Military with Promotion of a Little-Known Officer

Article excerpt

Analysts questioned whether the removal of the country's military chief and his successor's appointment were part of a political purge engineered by Kim Jong-un.

A day after dismissing its military chief, North Korea announced on Tuesday the promotion of a little-known general to vice marshal, a move widely seen as the new leader Kim Jong-un's attempt to tame the military and reshape his secretive regime's power elite as a way of consolidating his authority.

The promotion of Hyon Yong-chol, announced on the front page of Rodong Sinmun, the main newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party, came after North Korea disclosed Monday the dismissal of Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, chief of the North Korean military's General Staff and one of the party's most senior officials.

Only nine people hold the rank of vice marshal in the North Korean People's Army. South Korean officials did not know basic data on Vice Marshal Hyon like his hometown or age. But this lack of information may matter less in North Korea than elsewhere. In the North, an official's power is determined less by his formal title or background than by the frequency with which he is seen with the top leader.

Instead, analysts were busy speculating over whether the abrupt removal of Vice Marshal Ri and the promotion of Vice Marshal Hyon represented a political purge engineered by Mr. Kim to consolidate his power or whether he was responding to a perceived challenge to his authority. They also wondered who, if anyone, was influencing him in his decisions and whether the changes signaled a new course in foreign policy, perhaps steering the isolated country toward more openness.

They had few clues to go by. But by Tuesday, they tended to focus on recent indications from North Korea, including Mr. Kim's first public speech in April, in which he seemed to emphasize the need for the party to regain control over the military. "There is a power game going on, and it's clear that the party people won the first round against the military generals," said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University. "What we see is not just the reshuffle of the military but the continuation of the reshuffle of the power elite. …

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