North Korea "reportedly" sacked the chief of its Supreme Guard Command, the elite personal bodyguard force tasked with protecting the North's leader Kim Jong-un, in the wake of last month's killings by a North Korean army deserter, a Chinese scholar wrote in an op-ed for state media on Saturday.
Hu Mingyuan, associate researcher at the Center for Northeast Asian Studies, a research institute of the Jilin province that shares borders with North Korea, did not specify where he got the information.
n the op-ed piece published by state-run China Daily newspaper, Hu suspected that, if the reported dismissal is true, it might indicate Pyongyang's willingness to move toward warmer ties with Beijing.
China lodged a diplomatic protest after a North Korean army deserter killed four Chinese citizens in a robbery attempt in the Chinese border city of Helong on Dec. 28 last year. The North Korean soldier was shot dead during a manhunt, Chinese officials said.
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) has reportedly dismissed all officials, including the head of Pyongyang's Supreme Guard Command, considered responsible for a DPRK army deserter crossing the border last month and killing four Chinese nationals while trying to commit robbery," Hu said.
"If the report of the removal of the Pyongyang officials is true, it has to be said the DPRK has had a drastic change of heart," Hu said.
"By holding the military leadership accountable for the shooting and robbery incident, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un has sought to not only appease the public rage in China but also strengthen China-DPRK relations," Hu said.
Nobody answered calls to the office of Hu's research center on Saturday.
The North's current Supreme Guard commander, Yun Jong-rin, was last seen in public on Dec. 2 last year, in a photo published by the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the reclusive state's ruling Workers' Party.