Man behind 2010 attacks dead at 77

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Man behind 2010 attacks dead at 77

A top North Korean military official known to have orchestrated the sinking of the Cheonan warship and the shelling on Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 has died, the North’s state newspaper reported.

Kim Kyok-sik, the former chief of the North Korean Army’s General Staff, died on Sunday of acute respiratory failure caused by an unidentified cancer at the age of 77, according to the Rodong Sinmun on Monday.

The top military official was believed to be the man behind the fatal attack on the South Korean Cheonan warship in March 2010, which left 46 sailors dead.

The incident prompted Seoul to implement sanctions against Pyongyang that ground all inter-Korean economic activity to a halt, save for the Kaesong Industrial Complex, north of the heavily fortified border.

South Korean officials believe Kim also carried out the shelling on the western island of Yeonpyeong, near the maritime border, on Nov. 23 in 2010, just eight months after the Cheonan was torpedoed.

At the time, he served as the commander of the 4th Corps of the North Korean Army in Hwanghae Province, a position that gave him authority over the peninsula’s western border. The shelling left two marines and two civilians dead.

The two incidents brought inter-Korean relations to an all-time low in a decade. Restrictions, known as the May 24 sanctions, were imposed by the Lee Myung-bak administration and currently remain in effect. The measures have served as a source of tensions between both Koreas, with the North calling on the South to lift them.

The report of Kim’s death came 13 days before the fifth anniversary of the May 24 sanctions. The North has consistently called for a lift of restrictions, while continuing to deny its responsibility for the sinking without an official apology.

Kim studied at Kim Il Sung Military University and was known as a military hawk.

He was appointed as minister of the People’s Armed Forces following the attacks in 2010 and was later tapped as the chief of the military’s General Staff in May 2013, a position from which he was dismissed three months later.

As the chief of the General Staff, he visited Cuba in June 2013 as head of the military delegation in an effort to foster cooperation between the Communist states.

The Rodong Sinmun said the general had a number of decorations with the highest honors for his contributions to the state, adding that he committed himself to the Workers’ Party and the military-first revolution of North Korea. It did not provide specific achievements, however.

Lim Byeong-cheol, a spokesman for the Ministry of Unification, refused to comment on Kim’s death on Monday but said the Seoul government’s position on the May 24 sanctions has not changed. He reiterated the government’s stance that the North accept and apologize for the sinking if it wants to see the sanctions removed.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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