The North Korean military's top political officer has become a confidant to leader Kim Jong-un with the blessing of Kim's late father and long-time leader Kim Jong-il, people familiar with the matter said Wednesday.
Choe Ryong-hae, a former provincial chief of the ruling Workers' Party, appears to have secured a position deemed as the country's new No. 2 following the recent execution of the current leader's uncle, Jang Song-thaek.
Choe was sitting next to the young leader Kim Jong-un at Tuesday's ceremony marking the second death anniversary of Kim-Jong-il, a rare glimpse that provides outside analysts with clues about the latest power structure in the isolated communist country.
The junior Kim took over the communist country in 2011 after the sudden death of Kim Jong-il, who also inherited the power from his father Kim Il-sung, the North's founder.
Choe's meteoric rise from relative obscurity came years after Kim Jong-il asked him to assist then successor Kim Jong-un, according to the people with knowledge of the North's inner circle.
Kim Jong-il told his son to "rely on Choe Ryong-hae" as he held the hands of the both men, they said, without elaborating on a specific time frame of their three-way meeting.
Currently, Choe oversees the North's 1.1 million-strong military, the main backbone of the young leader's autocratic rule.
Choe's current position suggested that Kim Jong-un carried out his father's instructions.
So far, Jang, the once-powerful uncle of leader Kim Jong-un, was considered the North's No. 2 man and Kim's guardian before he was executed last week on charges of treason.
In a massive rally meant to reaffirm the military's loyalty to Kim, Choe said that he will track down and kill those who do not follow Kim's leadership, by citing a legendary case of loyalty.
On Monday, tens of thousands of North Korean troops pledged to "become human bullets and bombs," in a hyperbolic rhetoric commonly used in the North to underscore soldiers' determination to protect their leader at the cost of their lives.
Choe's father, Choe Hyon, served as a vice defense minister and pulled a pistol during a key party meeting in 1956 on the opposition in a factional strife against the country's founder Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current leader.
The senior Choe's move dampened spirits of those who were opposed to Kim Il-sung, who later purged his political opponents.
Last week, the North's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, praised the senior Choe's case as an example of protecting the country's leader, though it did not cite Choe by name. (Yonhap News)