North Korea’s defense chief Kim Yong-chun has been sidelined in the country’s ongoing hereditary succession process due to apparent tensions between his loyalists and supporters of the heir-apparent, Kim Jong-un, a senior South Korean ruling party official said Thursday.
Kim, the minister of the North’s People’s Armed Forces, is known to have the trust of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and serves as a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, headed by the leader himself.
“Our intelligence officials have determined that Minister Kim has been effectively sidelined in the power transition process from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, and are carefully looking into the reasons and possible impact,” said the senior official from the Grand National Party, who declined to be named.
“I believe Minister Kim’s weakening position is due to generational conflicts and rivalries between his forces and Kim Jong-un’s younger loyalists within the military,” the official added. The heir-apparent is believed to be no older than 29.
The official warned that the situation has not only caused confusion within the North Korean military, but may also destabilize the Korean Peninsula.
“We should keep close tabs on the movements of North Korea’s military hardliners,” the official said.
Military tensions remain high on the peninsula after the North launched two deadly attacks on the South last year. On Wednesday, the two sides exchanged fire near their western maritime border, while reports emerged of a North Korean plot to assassinate South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.