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New NK Defense Chief Known as Kim Jong Il Loyalist

Posted February. 13, 2009 03:43,   


In the wake of North Korea’s recent shakeup of its military leadership lineup, experts in South Korea and abroad are resorting to guesswork over the intention of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Kim Yong Chun, the new minister of the People’s Armed Forces of the National Defense Commission, thwarted a military coup in 1994. He has since been on the fast track to success.

When the North’s 6th Army Corps commander died from unknown causes in early 1994, Kim Jong Il suspected a military coup and had Kim Yong Chun fill the vacancy.

Upon assuming the post, Kim Yong Chun joined hands with the head of the North’s general staff of the army Won Ung Hee to purge those who orchestrated the coup. Over a year, Kim Yong Chung had either executed or sent to prison hundreds of officers and Workers’ Party members in the Hamkyong provinces for their roles in the failed coup.

Former Workers’ Party Secretary Hwang Jang-yop described the brutal purge in September last year, saying, “The masterminds were killed by Kim Yong Chun at an auditorium, and Jang Sung Taek, the incumbent director of the party’s administrative department, ordered the killing.”

The following year, Kim Yong Chun realigned divisions under the 6th Army Corps to the forefront. For this, he was appointed chief of the general staff of the (North) Korean People’s Army in October 1995. In April 2000, he was conferred the title of “hero.”

Ri Yong Ho, the new chief of the general staff, knows how to crush coups. The main duty of the Pyongyang defense headquarters he used to head is to prevent rebel troops from entering the North’s capital. For this reason, the head of the headquarters should be competent enough to instantly put down armed revolts and be a close confidante to Kim Jong Il.

The reclusive leader is assumed to have named these veteran soldiers to head the military to maintain firm control in the wake of his alleged stroke. The timing of the shakeup coincides with the 35th anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s selection as the successor to the leadership.

Signs have appeared that the communist county is having trouble choosing a successor for its leader. In an unprecedented move, Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of Kim Jong Il, spoke on the North’s succession in Beijing.

North Korean media have begun mentioning a “Mankyongdae family,” referring to the genealogy of the North’s late founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and their descendants. Last month, Pyongyang in a Cabinet reshuffle replaced a third of older officials with younger ones.

These moves are apparently Kim Jong Il’s precautionary measures to pave the way for his successor by positioning loyalists in the government and the military and invigorating its economy.

Given that Jang, a hard-line figure in the Workers’ Party, was reinstated a year ago and that Jang’s close confidants have taken control of the North’s military, Pyongyang is expected to stick to its bellicose stance for the time being.