Ouster of military chief
Is power struggle taking place in N. Korea?
North Korea’s military chief Ri Yong-ho has been removed from all official posts because of illness, the Stalinist country’s state media reported Monday.
As well as being head of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), Ri was vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission and held top posts in the ruling Workers’ Party. He was one of seven top party and military cadres who accompanied Kim Jong-un, the North’s new leader, when he walked alongside the hearse carrying the body of his father Kim Jong-il who died in December.
The seven, including Jong-un’s uncle Jang Seong-thaek, were seen as central figures in bolstering the regime of the new leader who is believed to be in his late 20s.
North Korea watchers say it’s unusual for the North to make public Ri’s removal so quickly ― only one day after the decision was reached Sunday at a Politburo meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party.
North Korea cited illness as the reason for his sudden departure but analysts discount such a possibility, saying he would have retained some honorary posts if he had really been sick.
For now, several possibilities are being raised. First of all, Kim Jong-un, who took power seven months ago following the death of his father Kim Jong-il, may have let him go as part of efforts for a ``generational change.’’ If this scenario is right, more of his aging officials could be dismissed in the coming weeks.
Another scenario says Ri may have been dismissed, assuming responsibility for his failure to seize control of the military. Some analysts raise the possibility that his ouster may have something to do with conflict regarding the future course of the poverty-stricken country with other top cadres.
The most plausible scenario is that he was purged after being defeated in a power struggle in the North’s inner circle. Analysts say his unrivaled status began to crumble in April, when Choe Ryong-hae, the son of Choe Hyon who served as the North’s defense minister from 1968 to 1976, received important promotions. At the time, Choe surfaced as a strong man, becoming vice marshal, a member of the Politburo Presidium of the Workers’ Party Central Committee, a vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission and director of the KPA General Political Bureau.
According to this scenario, Jang plotted with Choe to kick out Ri who may have fallen out of favor with Kim. This raises the possibility that North Korea’s military may have been taken over by Jang who is often called the real power in North Korea.
South Korea says it is watching the situation carefully but refuses to elaborate further. It’s too early to say clearly but some important changes may be taking place in the North.
We welcome changes in the reclusive country and hopefully, the new leader will abandon its military-first policy and steer the North to the path of reform and openness.