N. Korea names new defense minister before launch

Agence France-Presse
North Korea names a new armed forces chief ahead of its rocket launch

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea has appointed a new armed forces minister, official media said Wednesday, as it prepares for a widely criticized rocket launch.

Ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun referred to Kim Jong-Gak, previously in charge of military administration and organisation, as “minister of the people’s armed forces” in a report on a speech he gave Tuesday.

He replaces Kim Yong-Chun, 75, who had served in the military since 1956.

An analyst said the appointment was a sign that the North’s new leader Kim Jong-Un is installing close confidants to key posts as he cements his grip on power.

“The resignation of Kim Yong-Chun, a confidant of the late leader Kim Jong-Il, indicates that Jong-Un is appointing close confidants to key posts,” said Cheong Seong-Chang, of South Korea’s Sejong Institute think-tank.

“The nomination was not officially announced but Kim Jong-Gak will play a role in helping Jong-Un secure firm control over the military,” Cheong told AFP.

Kim Jong-Gak was among 6 top military and party figures who walked alongside Jong-Un as he escorted the hearse of his father during a state funeral last December.

The North says it has begun fuelling a rocket before a satellite launch scheduled between Thursday and next Monday, to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founding leader Kim Il-Sung.

The United States and many other countries see the exercise as cover for a test of ballistic missile technology, banned under United Nations resolutions.

A rare ruling party meeting later Wednesday is expected formally to name Kim Jong-Un — grandson of the founding leader — as its general secretary as he completes the power transition from his late father.

“From now on, the old guard who had supported Kim Jong-Il will stay in the backseat or gradually retire,” Cheong said. – Agence France-Presse

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