Hawkish General Makes Comeback As North Korea's Military Chief

by
Reuters
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.

north korea

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.

Kim Kyok-sik, widely believed to have been behind the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010 that killed four people, was named "chief of the KPA (Korean People's Army) General Staff" by state news agency KCNA in a report on Wednesday.

The four-star general, in his 70s, held that position for two years until 2009.

The 30-year-old Kim Jong-un, the third of his family to rule North Korea, has been reshuffling the military in an attempt to stamp his power on the army after formally assuming power a year ago.

Kim Kyok-sik was a veteran field commander with a long track record of loyal service to the ruling Kim dynasty, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think-tank in Seoul.

"I think Kim Jong-un has the military under his control and he (Kim Kyok-sik) is the right, capable person at the top of the military brass," Cheong said.

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

His comeback indicates Pyongyang is also sending a message to South Korea that its tough policies toward its neighbour will not change, experts said.

North Korea recently drove tensions on the Korean peninsula to their highest in decades with threats to wage nuclear war on South Korea and the United States.

Just over a week ago, another KCNA report showed Kim Kyok-sik had been replaced as head of the armed forces ministry, a position subordinate to that of chief of the KPA General Staff.

"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."

Frequent reshuffles of top army figures have triggered speculation Kim Jong-un may be seeking to reassert the power of the Workers' Party of Korea over the country's generals.

Kim Kyok-sik's military career included working as a liaison officer to Syria, one of a few allies of the diplomatically isolated North, according to the South Korean government.

North Korea sent one of its top military officials as a "special envoy" to Beijing on Wednesday, accompanied by a senior delegation in what appeared to be a bid to mend frayed relations with its most important ally.

Since its third nuclear test in February, North Korea's ties with China have been strained.