North Korea is believed to have replaced its three top military officials, regarded as hardliners, with moderates ahead of a summit later this month with the United States, a South Korean news agency reported over the weekend, citing an intelligence source.
A spokesman of South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Monday that Seoul has not yet confirmed the replacements, which if true would be an extraordinary development.
(From left, Kim Su Gil, No Kwang Chol and Ri Yong Gil)
North Korea’s official media revealed late last month that Kim Su Gil, who was chairman of the Pyongyang City Committee of the Workers’ Party, has replaced Kim Jong Gak as director of the army’s powerful General Political Bureau.
In addition to this change, Yonhap reported Sunday that No Kwang Chol, first vice minister of the Ministry of Peoples’ Armed Forces, recently replaced Pak Yong Sik as defense chief, while Ri Myong Su, chief of the Korean People’s Army’s general staff, was succeeded by his deputy Ri Yong Gil.
The news agency quoted the source as saying that the previous top officials “lacked flexibility in thinking” and the reshuffle bringing in new figures might have been carried out amid new developments in inter-Korean relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
The source added, “In particular, No Kwang Chol has been classified as a moderate person.”
The reason for the possible reshuffle remains unclear. It could simply be a generational change of the army.
But it became known before the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, set for June 12 in Singapore, and at a time when tensions between the two divided Koreas are easing at a fast pace.