North Korea has replaced its defense minister with a hardline military commander believed responsible for deadly attacks on South Korea in 2010, diplomats in Pyongyang said Thursday. It is the latest in a series of high-profile appointments leader Kim Jong Un has made since he took power nearly a year ago.
Diplomats in Pyongyang told the Associated Press that they were informed that Kim Jong Gak had been replaced as armed forces minister by Kim Kyok Sik, commander of the battalions linked to two deadly attacks in 2010 blamed on North Korea. South Korean officials said they also received similar information about the North Korean personnel changes.
The move comes amid speculation that North Korea may be preparing a long-range rocket launch. North Korea says its launches are meant to put a satellite into orbit.
The appointment of a hawkish general could mean North Korea wants to show a tough face to Washington and Seoul, said analyst Hong Hyun-ik at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.
Baek Seung-joo, an analyst at the state-run Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un is trying to put his stamp on the military by building loyalty with troops and also by creating tension among generals through personnel changes.
In July, Kim dismissed military chief Ri Yong Ho, who was seen as one of his key mentors, and named little-known vice marshal Hyon Yong Chol as his new General Staff chief.
In April, Kim also reshuffled top Workers’ Party posts by taking on top party posts held by his father and giving other high-level posts to close associates.
In recent months, North Korea has also reshuffled top Cabinet members such as the ministers of sports, electronics industry and agriculture, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.