SEOUL — North Korea has removed a hard-line general from the post of armed forces minister, filling the job with a little-known three-star general, according to official North Korean news reports Monday.
Since Kim Jong Un took over the leadership in Pyongyang in late 2011, there has been a continued reordering of top jobs in the ruling Workers’ Party and the military. Kim is using the personnel changes to tighten his grip on power, analysts said.
The new minister, Jang Jong Nam, is in his 50s, which is considered young among senior personnel in North Korea, officials in Seoul said. They said Jang, the third official to take the role of armed services minister since Kim came to power, appeared to be part of a new generation the North Korean leader was promoting to put his stamp on the military.
At a military rally in Pyongyang in December, Jang, then commander of the First Corps that guarded the eastern border with South Korea, pledged allegiance to Kim and vowed to turn South Korea into “death valley” if given the order to attack.
Little else is known about Jang. Mention of his new role was buried in state news media dispatches listing those who attended an art performance with Kim.
It was unclear what happened to the departing armed forces minister, General Kim Kyok Sik. South Korean officials believed that he commanded units responsible for attacks on South Korea in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans.
Kim Kyok Sik, 74, was one of the oldest military leaders in North Korea after Kim Jong Un filled top military jobs with younger generals.
In North Korea, the armed forces minister is not the top defense job. In the shifting party hierarchy, other military jobs, such as the head of the general staff of the Korean People’s Army and the head of the military’s General Political Department, often come before the armed services minister.
Like his late father, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un has been trying to portray himself as a strong military leader. After its third nuclear test in February, North Korea drastically escalated its hostile political speech against the United States and South Korea.
On Monday, the United States and South Korea started a two-day joint naval exercise involving a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier. North Korea has criticized the carrier’s arrival in South Korea, calling the drill a preparation for an invasion of the North.