North replaces commander of key frontline unit

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North replaces commander of key frontline unit

North Korea has replaced a commander in charge of the western islands near the inter-Korean border, a government official from the South told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“North Korea has replaced Byon In-son, former commander of the 4th Corps, with Ri Song-kuk,” the official said on the condition of anonymity because it could compromise South Korean intelligence assets in the North. “Ri is currently conducting field-guidance trips to army units in Hwanghae Province, which is in the jurisdiction of the 4th Corps.

“Although we haven’t confirmed his former rank or career history, we assume he must be higher than a three-star general considering the status of the position,” the official said. “As the 4th Corps is in charge of the most serious flashpoint in North Korea that faces the South’s Bangnyeong Island and Yeonpyeong Island across the border, we assume the new commander is in Kim Jong-un’s inner circle. We are analyzing the background of the replacement.”

Byon’s current whereabouts have not been confirmed, the source added.

Based on sources familiar with North Korean affairs, the North Korean People’s Army is composed of nine corps: three rear-supporting, two central-front and four frontline units armed with artillery. Among the four forward corps, the 4th Corps is located off the Yellow Sea.

The 4th Corps is also the one that shelled the South’s Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010 in a deadly attack. The command of the corps is located in the strategically important city of Haeju, Hwanghae Province.

Kim Jong-un has visited two frontline areas that are under the control of the corps so far. He has also frequently visited Haeju, showing his great interest in the forward region and the corps in charge of the area.

South Korea’s intelligence sources indicate that Kim has beefed up forces in the corps and improved living conditions for soldiers after visiting the western frontline regions.

Although there is no unusual activity from the corps, the South is eyeing the command because it ordered an array of live-fire exercises during the winter.


By Jeong Yong-soo [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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