North Korea’s top three military officials have been replaced ahead of an historic summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, according to multiple reports.
All three appear to have been replaced by younger Kim loyalists, part of an ongoing transformation of the country’s political and military establishment since the young leader took power in 2011.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unnamed intelligence official, reported that defense chief Pak Yong Sik had been replaced by No Kwang Chol, while Ri Myong Su, chief of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) general staff, had been replaced by his deputy, Ri Yong Gil.
Army general Kim Su Gil’s replacement of Kim Jong Gak as director of the KPA’s general political bureau was previously referenced in North Korean state media, and confirmed Monday by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with North Korean affairs.
“All these (promoted) guys are top Kim Jong Un guys,” the CNN quoted Michael Madden, author of the highly respected North Korea Leadership Watch blog, as saying.
“All three of them have held very sensitive and high level positions under Kim Jong Un, they’re very loyal (to him), and all have experience interacting with foreign delegations.”
The three men replaced, Pak, Ri and Kim, are 68, 81 and 77 years old respectively.
Madden said the reshuffling at the top of the North Korean military was likely done for a number of reasons, among them preparation for the Kim-Trump talks and future South Korean negotiations and exchanges.