Profile North Korea”s new army chief


Profile: North Korea”s new army chief Ri Myong-su

Image caption
Gen Ri Myong-su (L) is an experienced hand in North Korean politics

North Korea”s new army chief General Ri Myong-su was appointed to head the Korean People”s Army General Staff following the removal and rumoured execution of his predecessor, Ri Yong-gil.

State-run KCNA news agency made no specific announcement of his appointment. Instead, in characteristic North Korean style, his name appeared in lists of attendees at a visit by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un to military manoeuvres on Sunday.

However, there were clues to his return to high rank nearly two weeks ago, when he was seen at the official event marking the launch of North Korea”s latest ballistic missile.

He was spotted standing in the position on the leadership platform previously filled by Ri Yong-gil exactly a month earlier, when North Korea marked its latest nuclear test.

“Hardline dinosaurs”

Gen Ri is an experienced hand in North Korean politics. He was an aide to former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the head of the Ministry for People”s Security, making him a member of the “Gang of Three”, a group of officials that is always present in the leader”s entourage.

His date of birth is disputed, with official accounts saying he was born in 1934 (putting his age at 82), while others claim he was born in either 1937 or 1938.

South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo describes him as an “octogenarian apparatchik” and “yet another sign that hardline dinosaurs are currently in the ascendant in internal power struggles”.

It adds that Gen Ri is the fifth chief of general staff since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011, claiming that two of his predecessors were executed, one died in post and another was purged.

Gen Ri is regarded as a leading military strategist; the Defensenews website says he is “well-versed” in missile technology.

Image caption
Gen Ri during his visit to China in July 2012

North Korea”s official biography of Gen Ri claims his military career started in 1950 during the Korean War, which would have made him between 12 and 16 years of age at the time, depending on which account of his life is accurate.

He was promoted to colonel general in 1995, and to full general five years later. Gen Ri was elected to the party”s central committee in 2010.

Following the elder Kim”s death he was removed from several of his ministerial, party and National Defence Commission posts in 2013, but has now apparently fallen back into favour after three years out of the public eye.

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