Pyongyang’s star shines ever brighterHwang Byong-so, the first deputy director of the powerful Organization and Guidance Department under the ruling Workers’ Party, has been speedily promoted to one of North Korea’s six vice marshals under the leadership Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang announced yesterday.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency yesterday reported on the decision by the party’s Central Military Commission to name Hwang as a vice marshal. Hwang is now the second-highest military officer following Kim, the supreme commander of the North Korean Army.
In North Korea, five other officials are currently known as vice marshals, including Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean Army.
Choe is known as Kim’s innermost confidant following the purge and execution of Kim’s powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek.
The other four vice marshals are aging senior members in the party: Kim Yong-chun, the former minister of the People’s Armed Forces; Kim Jong-gak, president of Kim Il Sung Military University; Ri Yong-mu, a vice chairman of the National Defense Commission; and Hyon Chol-hae, the former first deputy chief of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces.
The four are assumed to have been edged out of Kim’s innermost circle, as they were neither listed as newly elected delegates in North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliamentary elections, nor were they present at the commemoration marking the second anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il.
Hwang’s promotion came just two weeks after he was named a four-star general on April 15, according to Seoul officials’ analyses of North Korean reports. In the ruling Workers’ Party, Hwang was known to be the deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department, and was then promoted to first deputy director in March, as documented in KCNA reports.
The first deputy director of the department is assumed to be in charge of military affairs, sources told the JoongAng Ilbo. The department is also reportedly a powerful unit in the party, otherwise referred to as “the party inside the party.”
“Hwang has been recognized for his expertise on military issues since he worked in the Organization and Guidance Department in early 2000,” a South Korean government official said. “Recently, he has been accompanying Kim Jong-un on most of his ‘field guidance trips.’ He has rapidly risen through the ranks, so we assume his ascent as a rising star has settled down.”
The official said that Hwang’s appointment as a vice marshal could mean that North Korea is putting more emphasis on the ruling party than the military, whereby a party official is promoted as the second-highest military official.
Rumors spread that Hwang replaced Choe Ryong-hae, who has not made any recent public appearances in North Korean media.
However, another Seoul official in charge of intelligence in North Korea told the JoongAng Ilbo that it would not be easy for North Korea to dismiss Choe, who is revered as the son of Choe Hyon, a famous anti-Japanese Communist guerilla fighter and a close aide to founder Kim Il Sung. The official added that Choe was spotted in North Korean media limping earlier this year and is assumed to have health problems.
“Because North Korea has a policy that allows high-ranking officials [to take vacation time] for 20 or 30 days, we can’t say with certainty that he was purged,” the official said. “Hwang could possibly be replacing Hyon Chol-hae, who was known as a vice marshal but assumed to have recently retired.”
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KIM HEE-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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