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2 Jan, 2023 19:55

Kim Jong-un fires powerful military leader – state media

Pak Jong-chon was second only to the North Korean leader himself
Kim Jong-un fires powerful military leader – state media

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sacked the second-in-command of the country’s military, Pak Jong-chon, state media reported.

Pak, who served as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party and a secretary of the party’s Central Committee, was replaced by Ri Yong-gil.

The decision was made at the committee’s annual meeting last week, state news agency KCNA said on Sunday. Pak was shown sitting in the front row at the meeting with his head bowed. His seat was shown again later unoccupied.

The Central Military Commission, headed by Kim, is considered even more powerful than the country’s Defense Ministry when it comes to military decision-making.

No reason was offered for the shake-up, but North Korea’s government regularly reshuffles those in leadership positions.

Oh Gyeong-sup, a fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, told Reuters that Pak may have taken responsibility for a “failure of security operations” following an incident in which North Korean drones intruded into the South’s airspace. 

When Seoul sent three drones back across the border, there was apparently no response from Pyongyang, indicating its defenses may have failed to detect UAVs.

Pak had been briefly demoted in 2021 when Kim chastised some officials for their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic response, but he was later promoted again.

On Monday, Kim called for Pyongyang to develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and boost its nuclear arsenal amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

He said Pyongyang needs “overwhelming military power” to defend itself, as Washington and “our undoubted enemy” in Seoul try to “isolate and stifle” it. He said a new missile capable of “quick nuclear counter-strike” must be developed.

Kim said the country is focused on mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons with an “exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal” being the focus of its defense strategy for 2022, KCNA reported.

Pyongyang conducted a record number of missile tests last year, according to Western media calculations. It fired a short-range ballistic missile off its east coast in the early hours of January 1. Meanwhile, Washington and Seoul have claimed that the North is gearing up for its nuclear test since 2017.