June 01, 2010 11:56
North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission held a rare press conference for the foreign press on Friday to discredit evidence that identifies the North as the culprit behind the sinking of the Cheonan. To South Korean negotiators who were watching, the officials who spoke to the press were familiar faces.
They were Maj. Gen. Pak Rim-su, the director of the policy department at the commission, Col. Ri Son-gwon, and Col. Pak Ki-yong. All regularly attended inter-Korean talks in the past. "We've discovered that all of the North Korean officials who attended previous inter-Korean meetings are members of the National Defense Commission," said a Unification Ministry official. "We also discovered the existence of the policy department at the National Defense Commission and the fact that it is tasked with dealing with South Korea."
But the duties of the policy department are not limited to military matters, as could be seen when Pak Rim-su toured the joint-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Kumgang tourism site with other officials of the department in April.
Ryu Dong-ryeol, a researcher at the Police Science Institute, said, "There have been several signs that the National Defense Commission is involved not only in military affairs but also in a wider range of inter-Korean relations, including cross-border business projects. This means that the commission has taken over a significant portion of the duties previously handled by the United Front Department of the Worker's Party."
Kim Yang-gon, the director of the United Front Department, was appointed concurrently as a councilor at the commission last year. The commission "had to turn to Kim for advice and expertise as it expanded its role to cover inter-Korean affairs," Ryu said.
Of particular interest to South Korean officials is the relationship between the policy department and the commission's Reconnaissance Bureau, which was created last year and has been singled out as being responsible for the torpedo attack on the Cheonan. Pak Rim-su, Ri Son-gwan and Pak Ki-yong all served under Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-chol, who heads the bureau. Kim was the head of the North Korean military delegation during inter-Korean military talks between 2006 and 2007, while the three officials served as his aides.
"Given the close ties between Kim and the others, it appears that the policy department and the Reconnaissance Bureau also have close relations," said a South Korean intelligence official. Pak Rim-su is also Kim's successor. Before leading the Reconnaissance Bureau, Kim was in charge of the precursor agency of the policy department.
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