SEOUL, Jan 2 (Portal) – North Korea has fired 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’s 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, official KCNA news agency said on Sunday.
A reason for the change was not given. Pyongyang regularly renews its leadership, and the year-end party meeting was often used to announce personnel changes and important policy decisions.
State television showed Pak sitting in the front row of the podium during the meeting, head bowed, while other members raised their hands to vote on personnel issues. His seat was later shown vacant.
He was also absent from photos released Monday by the official KCNA news agency of Kim’s New Year’s visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses the bodies of his grandfather and father, unlike in October when Pak Kim was on a trip to the Kumsusan accompanied Schloss on the occasion of a party anniversary.
The party’s Central Military Commission, headed by Kim, is considered the most powerful military decision-making body in the country, above the Defense Ministry.
Pak was replaced as Kim called for the development of new ICBMs and a larger nuclear arsenal to counter the United States and South Korea as key to the isolated country’s defense strategy for 2023.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a session of the sixth expanded session of the Eighth Workers’ Party Central Committee in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released January 1, 2023 by North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA). . KCNA via Portal
Pak had quickly climbed the military ladder from a one-star artillery commander in 2015 to a four-star general in 2020, crediting himself with contributing to the advancement in the country’s short-range missile technology.
In late 2020, Pak was promoted to the Politburo and given the title of Marshal, the highest military rank under Kim, and became a leading voice against joint South Korea-US military exercises last November.
Like most other senior military aides who had repeated ups and downs under Kim, Pak was briefly demoted in mid-2021 after Kim chided some officials for her handling of North Korea’s anti-coronavirus policy, before being promoted again months later.
Pak’s dismissal comes despite Kim mainly praising the military’s advances in weapons development during the meeting, in contrast to other areas where he pointed out some flaws and called for improvements.
Oh Gyeong-sup, a fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said a recent flare-up in inter-Korean tensions over North Korean drone incursions into 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 it didn’t spot the plane.
“Pak may 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; Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan
Our standards: The Thomson Portal Trust Principles.