Pyongyang names new spymaster

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Pyongyang names new spymaster

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Han Chang-sun

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un appointed the former commander of the North Korean Army’s Seventh Corps, Han Chang-sun, to lead the General Bureau of Reconnaissance (GBR), a government source told the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday.

According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Han was tapped to run the anti-South body, formed in 2009, which is tasked with training espionage agents and conducting spy missions. He succeeds Kim Yong-chol, who had left the organ to lead the United Front Department.

“After Kim Yang-gon died in a car accident late last year,” the source said, “then-GBR director Kim Yong-chol succeeded late Kim to run the party body in charge of inter-Korea affairs in January, leaving the top position at the GBR to be run by an acting director.”

The official said Han was appointed sometime around the party’s seventh congress in early May, completing the reshuffle of officials to handle inter-Korea relations sparked in the aftermath of the unexpected death of veteran diplomat Kim Yang-gon in December, who was succeeded by Kim Yong-chol.

Gen. Kim Yong-chol is known in the South as a hawkish military man. He is believed to have masterminded the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan warship and the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Reports that Kim was elevated to take over the party organ mainly dealing with South Korea raised concerns that his hawkish stance would make it harder for the two Koreas to overcome their differences in their efforts toward compromise.

Han is reported to have risen to the rank of three-star general in 2010. He is also known to have commanded troops stationed in Hamhung in South Hamgyong Province as the Seventh Corps commander. Additionally, it was reported by North Korean media in May that he was selected as a central committee member of the Workers’ Party at the party congress.

Experts say that while not much about Han (such as his personality and career path) is known, he represents one of the rising stars under the leadership of Kim Jong-un.

“His name was seen on a roster of funeral committee members at the 128th order for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,” the source official commented. “He can be seen as one of the rising stars backed by Kim Jong-un, along with Hwang Pyong-so, the top military official in the North now.”

Hwang is the director of the General Political Bureau of the People’s Army.

The official cautioned that Han’s appointment might have been related to Pyongyang’s alleged directive to its agents overseas to carry out terror attacks against South Koreans in a third country, adding that the government was bracing for the North’s potential overseas provocations targeting South Koreans.

Another official in the military noted Han’s rise could have been traced back to Kim Jong-un’s field inspection of an artillery unit under the command of Han in Hamhung in June 2014. Kim was reported by the state-run Rodong Sinmun on July 1 of that year to have complimented artillery gunners at the unit for their “excellent artillery-striking capabilities.” It was Han who had briefed Kim on the field trip about artillery drills that day.

BY CHOI IK-JAE, KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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