Kim reshuffles military top brass

May 18, 2013 - 3:53:30 am

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has pushed out a high-profile military figure who once played a key role under his late father — the latest in a series of top-level personnel changes.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) identified a new figure, Jon Chang-Bok, as first vice-minister of the People’s Armed Forces Ministry in a report on Thursday which detailed Kim’s trip to an army food-processing factory.

The People’s Armed Forces Ministry is essentially the defence ministry and comes under the control of the powerful National Defence Commission. KCNA did not say when Jon, a relatively little-known figure, was appointed to the post, but he replaces Vice Marshal Hyon Chol-Hae.

The 79-year-old Hyon was regarded as one of the North’s top military figures who helped support the young leader following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, in December 2011.

But Kim has reshuffled his military top brass in an apparent attempt to secure his leadership since taking over the reins of power.

In changes disclosed on Sunday, Jang Jong-Nam, a relatively young field commander believed to be in his mid-50s, replaced hawkish defence minister Kim Kyok-Sik.

Kim Kyok-Sik, appointed six months ago, had been seen as a hardline choice given that he was widely believed to have directed the 2010 shelling of a South Korean border island.

Jang, who will now have Jon as his number-two, is not the most senior figure in the Korean military. The National Defence Commission is chaired by Kim Jong-Un as supreme commander.

And despite the shake-up, other old-guard figures remain in influential positions in the commission and other leadership bodies. The changes come as the Korean peninsula emerges from a period of highly elevated military tensions that followed the North’s nuclear test in February.

Meanwhile, US defence official said last week that two North Korean missiles that had been primed for firing as tensions on the peninsula flared in the run-up to the North’s national celebrations on April 15 had been moved from their launch site.

US and South Korean officials had been worried that any test of the Musudan missiles would trigger a fresh surge in tensions, which escalated after the North carried out a nuclear test in February.