North Korea replaces hawkish defence minister
North Korea has replaced its hawkish armed forces minister after just six months in the job – the latest in a long line of top military reshuffles by supreme leader Kim Jong-un.
The new minister was identified by the Korean Central News Agency on Sunday as Jang Jong-nam, a relatively young and little-known field commander believed to be in his mid-50s.
He replaces Kim Kyok-sik, whose appointment in November last year was seen as a hardline choice given that he was widely believed to have directed – as commander of the 4th Army Corps – the 2010 shelling of a South Korean border island.
The People’s Armed Forces Ministry is essentially the defence ministry and comes under the control of the powerful National Defence Commission.
Kim Jong-un has substantially reshuffled his military top brass in an apparent attempt to secure his leadership since taking over the reins of power from his late father in December 2011.
Kim Kyok-sik’s replacement comes as the Korean peninsula is emerging from a period of highly elevated military tensions that followed the North’s nuclear test in February.
South Korea noted the personnel change and said on Monday it was closely monitoring all internal shifts in the North’s military.
“We do not know if [Jang] is a less hawkish figure, but it appears that he is from a younger generation,” said defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok.
“Just because there is a new dot that does not mean that a whole line or landscape changes. We need more time to figure out the overall direction,” Kim added.
Prior to his appointment, Jang was reported to be the commander of the Korean People’s Army’s 1st Corps in Kangwon Province on the east coast. A recent photo in the ruling party’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed him as a three-star general.