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[Newsmaker] N.K. military spy chief restored to rank

North Korea has recently reinstated hawkish military spy chief Kim Yong-chol to a four-star general, raising concerns that it will increase saber rattling following its third nuclear test last month.

The Rodong Shinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling party, ran a photo on Tuesday showing the head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau wearing a four-star insignia as he clapped behind leader Kim Jong-un during a recent national choir performance.

The organization has masterminded a series of attacks against the South in recent years. He was demoted to two-star status along with other senior officials after a large-scale inspection of the military late last year.
Kim Yong-chol (circled), claps during a recent national choir performance behind leader Kim Jong-un (left, front row) in this photo carried by the Rodong Shinmun on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
Kim Yong-chol (circled), claps during a recent national choir performance behind leader Kim Jong-un (left, front row) in this photo carried by the Rodong Shinmun on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)

“His retaking the higher rank comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ratcheted up his military threat against the South following the third nuclear test. It, thus, signals a higher chance of provocations by the North,” a military expert said, declining to be named.

Analysts said that along with Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the General Political Bureau, Kim appeared to be one of the most trusted elites for the fledgling leader. Choe has also had his vice marshal rank restored after being demoted one notch to a four-star general last year.

The Reconnaissance General Bureau is believed to have spearheaded the North’s sinking of the South’s corvette Cheonan and its shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, both in 2010, killing 50 South Koreans.

The RGB is also thought to be responsible for a 2011 cyberattack that paralyzed the banking system of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation for several weeks, and for a series of disruptions of satellite traffic navigation signals from 2010 to 2012.

The RGB was launched as a control tower for military spy operations against the South in 2009 after merging several state and party organizations with similar functions, such as the ruling Worker’s Party’s Room 35, which ran overseas spy operations.

Along with Kim, Choe is one of the closest aides to the dynastic ruler. The GPB is under the direct control of the Workers’ Party and is a top military organ, which oversees personnel affairs, including promotion and position assignment and disciplinary action.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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