SEOUL, Jan 2 (Reuters) – North Korea has sacked Pak Jong Chon, the second most powerful military official after leader Kim Jong Un, state media reported.
Pak, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Military Commission and secretary of the party’s Central Committee, was replaced by Ri Yong Gil at the committee’s annual meeting last week, the news agency said on Sunday. official KCNA.
No reason for the change was given. Pyongyang routinely reorganizes its leadership, and the year-end party rally has often been used to announce major personnel reshuffles and policy decisions.
State television showed Pak sitting in the front row of the podium with his head bowed during the meeting as other members raised their hands to vote on personnel matters. His seat was later shown unoccupied.
He was also missing in photos released Monday by the official KCNA news agency of Kim’s New Year’s Day visit to the Kumsusan Sun Palace which houses the bodies of his grandfather and father, unlike in October where Pak accompanied Kim on a trip to the palace to mark a celebratory anniversary.
The party’s Central Military Commission, headed by Kim, is considered the country’s most powerful military decision-making body, above the Defense Ministry.
Pak’s replacement came as Kim called for the development of new intercontinental ballistic missiles and a larger nuclear arsenal to counter the United States and South Korea as key to the isolated country’s 2023 defense strategy.
Pak had quickly risen through the military ranks, rising from a one-star artillery commander in 2015 to a four-star general in 2020, taking credit for helping to advance the country’s short-range missile technology.
In late 2020, Pak was promoted to politburo and granted the title of field marshal, the highest military rank under Kim, and became a leading voice last November against joint South Korea-US military exercises. .
Like most other senior military officials who have repeatedly gone through ups and downs under Kim, Pak was briefly demoted in mid-2021 after Kim chastised some officials for their handling of the country’s anti-coronavirus policy. North Korea, before being promoted again months later.
Pak’s dismissal comes despite Kim mainly praising the military’s progress in weapons development during the meeting, unlike in other areas where he pointed out flaws and called for improvements.
Oh Gyeong-sup, a member of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said a recent spike in inter-Korean tension over the intrusion of North Korean drones in the South may have played a role.
Officials in Seoul said South Korea sent three drones across the border in response to the intrusion, but there was no response from the North, which Oh said could mean that he failed to detect the aircraft.
“Pak could have taken responsibility for the failure of security operations,” Oh said.
Ri, Pak’s successor, is also a senior military commander who has held key positions including army chief of staff and defense minister.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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