What Group Photo Says About New N.Korean Power Elite

      October 01, 2010 13:23

      The official North Korean media on Thursday published a group photograph showing the faces of its new leadership, including heir apparent Kim Jong-un, formed at the latest extraordinary congress of the Workers Party. "A look at the group photo gives a clear picture of the power structure in the era of Kim Jong-un," a South Korean intelligence official said. "The closer one is to the Kim dynasty, the higher one rises through the ranks."

      ◆ Proximity Equals Power

      The photo, splashed across the front page of the official Rodong Sinmun daily, features 235 officials, out of which 70 are clad in military uniforms. Another South Korean intelligence official who saw the photo, said, "Centering on Kim Jong-il, the nine rows in total contain officials in exact order of their rank in the power structure."

      In the front line are Kim Jong-il and his son Jong-un, plus Kim Kyong-hui (Kim Jong-un's aunt). Seated between Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un is Ri Yong-ho (68), chief of the North Korean Army's general staff. He rose to the position of standing member of the political department of the Workers Party, which is its highest rank, as well as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. Ri is tipped as the key military figure during Kim Jong-un's rule.

      Other key military officials are seated to Jong-un's left: Kim Yong-chun (74), North Korea's defense minister who also serves in the party's political department and Ri Ul-sol (89), marshal of the North Korean military. "Like Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un will favor military brass who are loyal to him," said a Unification Ministry official.


      Also in the first row are so-called "revolutionary cadres," who are primarily top members of the political department. In describing the photo, North Korea read the names in the following order: Kim Jong-il, Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Premier Choe Yong-rim, army chief Ri Yong-ho and Kim Jong-un. Japanese broadcaster NHK read that as signifying that Kim Jong-un ranks now fifth in the power structure.

      In the second row are candidates for the political department, as well as members of the Central Military Commission. Choe Ryong-hae (60), the chief secretary of the North Hwanghae chapter of the party who was appointed party secretary and Central Military Commission member, stands right behind Kim Jong-un. "It looks like they are trying to send the message that he is the one who will watch Kim Jong-un's back," said a high-ranking North Korean defector. Choe is the son of Choe Hyon, Kim Il-sung's comrade during his days as a partisan fighter and former member of the National Defense Commission. The younger Choe has known Kim Jong-il for many years and is a very trusted official.

      Kim Yong-chol, North Korea's military intelligence chief and believed to be the mastermind behind the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan, stands on the right. General O Kuk-ryol (79), vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, who was left out of the latest party reshuffle, stands closest to Kim Jong-il. To the left of O is Jang Song-taek (Jong-un's uncle), the party's administrative chief. Standing in the third row are provincial party secretaries and vice premiers of the cabinet, while ministers stand in the fourth row. "It's a group photo of North Korea's power elite during the Kim Jong-un era," said a Unification Ministry official.

      ◆ New Military Leadership

      A senior South Korean government official said, "The main characteristic of the reshuffle is the emergence of a new military leadership centered around key figures." Clustered around army chief Ri Yong-ho, his immediate subordinate Choe Pu-il, deputy chief of the military, was promoted to general along with Kim Jong-un. The rise of the military leadership is believed to have started in January last year, when a spokesman for the North's military chiefs of staff appeared on TV and threatened full-blown war with South Korea. Kim Jong-un was chosen as successor to the throne around this time. Jong-un may also have been trained by the North's military chiefs of staff.

      Meanwhile, Vice Army Marshal Jo Myong-rok (82) may step down as director of the political department, while defense minister Kim Yong-chun may step down as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission. Jo was absent from the photograph, apparently due to illness.

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