PYONGYANG, North Korea >> Soldiers danced in Pyongyang’s plazas as North Korea announced Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un was named marshal, a title cementing his status atop the authoritarian nation’s military as he makes key changes to the 1.2 million-man force.
State media said in a special noon bulletin that North Korea’s military, government and political leadership decided Tuesday to award the top title to Kim, who already is supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. It solidifies his standing seven months into Kim’s rule and follows several days of reshuffling at the highest levels of the military.
Hyon Yong Chol, promoted to vice marshal on Monday, was introduced as the chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army. He replaces Ri Yong Ho, the vice marshal whose dismissal was announced Monday as being due to illness. Ri, who had held high-ranking military and political posts under Kim Jong Il, had been at Kim Jong Un’s side throughout the succession process.
One by one, Kim Jong Un has collected top posts in the military and party, including first chairman of the National Defense Commission, first secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party, chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission and member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau. He was made supreme commander of the military in December, just days after his father’s death from a heart attack.
The South Korean and U.S. militaries have stepped up their monitoring of North Korea’s military in the wake of Ri’s dismissal, but they’ve seen no suspicious activities, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.
Little is known about Hyon, the new army chief. He joined the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, a key decision-making body, in September 2010, and was on the funeral committee for Kim Jong Il — two strong indicators of his rise in stature.
He is among four generals promoted to vice marshal since Kim Jong Un took over.