North Korea is believed to have replaced the head of the country’s main intelligence agency and the Supreme Guard commander, who is in charge of protecting its leader Kim Jong-un and his family.
Lt. General Rim Kwang-il was promoted as the director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, replacing Jang Kil-song last December, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry on Wednesday, in its annual publication of the country’s key figures.
North’s RGB is known to be behind some of the most high-profile attacks, espionage, clandestine operations and cyber warfare the regime has carried out against, mostly, South Korea, Japan and the US. Seoul believes the spy agency orchestrated the 2010 torpedoing of South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, in which 46 sailors were killed. At the time, Kim Yong-chol, hard-line military general and former NK nuclear envoy, was heading the agency since its initiation in 2009.
Rim was also appointed as a member of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party in December, reflection of his rise of ranks in the party.
Kwak Chang-sik is presumed to have been tapped as the new Supreme Guard commander last April, replacing octogenarian Army Gen. Yun Jong-rin, who has been protecting Kim since 2010.
Kwak’s information is lesser-known to the outside world, as his name began appearing in state media last year. He was appointed as a member of the ruling party’s central committee last December.
The reason for the replacement of the two, however, has not been mentioned.
Including Rim and Kwak, 23 new military, party and government officials made it to the latest book of 364 personnel. Hyun Song-wol, who leads famous Moranbong band and was rumored to be executed at one point, has taken up a role as the party’s vice director at propaganda and agitation department, in reflection of her growing role in the country.
The addition of new officials and latest leadership shakeups indicate the generation shift of the regime and Kim’s tighter grip on power by placing his key aides to major posts, according to the ministry.
“Last year, 80 percent of the politburo members were replaced and nine of 11 members, or 82 percent, of the State Affairs Commission were changed,” a ministry official said on condition of anonymity. The SAC is the communist state’s highest decision-making body headed by Kim. “This indicates the generation shifts and (Kim’s) focus on performance-based personnel reshuffle. It can be seen that Kim has consolidated power in the country as well.”
Meanwhile, the ministry said it cannot confirm the position of Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who has received spotlight recently as the possible heir apparent of the regime.
She could be either part of the Organization and Guidance Department, Propaganda and Agitation Department or a post that has not been yet known, the ministry official said.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com