Yonhap News Agency reported on Tuesday that North Korea abruptly appointed an army general in charge of border defense to the rank of vice marshal and head of the army, suggesting new leader Kim Jong-un and his closest advisers may be purging the ruling elite to strengthen their grip on the secretive state.
The report stated that the North's state media KCNA on Tuesday said Hyon Yong-chol was awarded the title of vice marshal of the Korean People's Army, one day after it announced Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, the top military commander, was relieved of all of his posts.
It is the latest surprise from the young Kim, who last week stunned observers by jazzing up the ruling family dynasty's normally dour image when he appeared on state television in the company of a mystery young woman, cheerfully applauding scantily dressed female pop singers.
Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, who was seen as close to Kim's dictator father Kim Jong-il, was relieved of his posts in the Workers' Party of Korea at a politburo meeting on Sunday, including the powerful role of vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, the state KCNA news agency said on Monday. Illness was given as the reason for the move on Ri, who is 70 years old, according to a South Korean government database. Health is often used as the reason when senior officials are sacked.