Stars removed from shoulders of North's military commanders

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Stars removed from shoulders of North's military commanders

Photos of a weekend military meeting released on Tuesday by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency show Navy Commander Kim Myong-sik, left, and Air Force Commander Kim Chung-il each sporting one less star on their epaulettes compared to their previous public appearances. [YONHAP]

Photos of a weekend military meeting released on Tuesday by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency show Navy Commander Kim Myong-sik, left, and Air Force Commander Kim Chung-il each sporting one less star on their epaulettes compared to their previous public appearances. [YONHAP]

 
Photos from a weekend gathering of North Korea's military brass appear to show that the country's Navy and Air Force commanders have been demoted by one rank, potentially reflecting a push to penalize military leaders deemed insufficiently committed to the regime.
 
The photos, released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Tuesday, show North Korean Navy Commander Kim Myong-sik and Air Force Commander Kim Chung-il seated in the front row of an educational session held for the North’s military leaders, held at the April 25 Cultural Center in Pyongyang on Saturday and Sunday.
 
The navy commander, who had previously sported three stars on his epaulettes, signifying his rank as admiral, appeared in uniform with only two stars, while the air force commander, who was previously known to be a two-star lieutenant general, had only one star on his uniform’s epaulettes.
 
Kim Myong-sik was identified as an admiral until July 30, according to coverage of an ideology session released by the KCNA.
 
However, rumors of his demotion spread after photos of the Oct. 11 defense exhibition in Pyongyang, which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also attended, showed him wearing the uniform of a lower-ranking position.
 
Kim Chung-il was appointed as the commander of the North’s Air Force at the 8th meeting of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission on Feb. 24 and promoted to lieutenant general.
 
Given that Kim Chung-il was still a lieutenant general at the October exhibition, it appears he was demoted more recently than Kim Myong-sik.
 
While the ranks of the two military officials were apparently lowered in the latter half of this year, official state media has not directly commented on their demotions.
 
However, Kim Jong-un is known to have instructed high-ranking military officials at a July political lecture that the regime needed to "seriously review shortcomings in the military by sharing beneficial experiences to overcome weaknesses."
 
The demotions of the two commanders suggest that they were reprimanded and disciplined after problems under their command were revealed.
 
However, Kim Jong-un is also known to periodically tighten his grip over the North’s military by inducing competition among its high-ranking officials vying for his favor by demonstrating their loyalty.
 
It is expected that Kim may introduce more changes in military appointments, or even re-instate demoted officials to their former rank, to demonstrate his control over the country’s armed forces.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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