November 17, 2011 12:09
The septuagenarian hardliner Gen. Kim Kyok-sik, who is believed to have supervised the North Korean military's deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November last year, appears to have regained the favor of the regime. Kim (71) was fired as chief of General Staff in 2009 and since headed the Fourth Army Corps.
It has been some two months since he disappeared from view in the area covered by the Fourth Corps. "But he's suddenly showing up at high-level military events in Pyongyang recently," a senior South Korean government official said. Intelligence reports say he is now deputy chief of the General Staff.
The official added, "We believe that he supervised all of the provocations the North has launched in the West Sea since 2009."
Kim spent most of his military career in the field, including 13 years as the commander of the Second Corps, which covers the western frontline area, from 1994 to 2007. He was promoted to chief of the General Staff in April 2007 but was dismissed again in February 2009.
The Fourth Corps he headed since then covers Hwangae Province and the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border.
Soon afterwards the North stepped up provocations in the West Sea. On Feb. 24, 2009, right after Kim assumed the command of the corps, the North Korean Army carried out a coastal artillery drill near the NLL.
The North was defeated in a skirmish near Daecheong Island in November 2009, and in a series of apparent revenge attacks the North sank the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March and shelled Yeonpyeong Island in November last year.
Immediately before the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, leader Kim Jong-il and his son and heir Jong-un visited Hwanghae Province, where they reportedly met Kim Kyok-sik.
A former senior North Korean official, who has defected to the South, said Kim's return to the General Staff is "a kind of reward for his work in the field. It's not clear whether it's a promotion, but it's not a demotion," he said.
Another South Korean government official said it seems Kim Kyok-sik was replaced as part of Kim Jong-un's efforts to replace aging frontline commanders with younger generals. "It's too early to see his dismissal from the Fourth Corps as part of the North's attempt to seek rapprochement with South Korea," he added.
The General Staff is under Kim Jong-il's direct command.
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