North Korea

Hawkish North Korean general makes a comeback

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 May, 2013, 1:50am

North Korea has reappointed a hardline and loyal general as military chief in a move experts said was part of young leader Kim Jong-un's attempt to tighten his grip on the armed forces.

In a brief dispatch, the Korean Central News Agency referred to Kim Kyok-sik as chief of the Korean People's Army general staff, a notch higher in the military hierarchy than his previous post of defence minister.

Kim was replaced in the ministerial position by a relatively young and little-known field commander earlier this month. 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, 75, is seen as a hardliner and reportedly ordered the shelling of Yeonpyeong island in 2010 when he commanded the North's Fourth Army Corps. Four South Koreans, including two civilians, died in the attack, which triggered fears of a full-scale conflict.

It is Kim's second term as chief of general staff. He previously held the post from 2007-2009. His military career has also included working as a liaison officer to Syria, one of a few allies of diplomatically isolated North Korea, according to Seoul.

Kim Kyok-sik replaced vice-marshal Hyon Yong-chol, who unexpectedly rose to prominence last year.

"Kim Jong-un may have wanted to put someone who is experienced and able to command the military," said Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on North Korea's ruling ideology at Dongguk University in Seoul.

"Possibly, Hyon Yong-chol who took up the post suddenly, wasn't doing a good job."

Additional reporting by Reuters