Kim Jong-un Reshuffles Top Military Brass

The man fingered by South Korean authorities as being responsible for the torpedo attack against the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan, has been promoted from lieutenant general to general, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported on Wednesday.

In the first high-level military reshuffle conducted by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un following the death in December of his father, Kim Jong-il, Gen. Kim Yong-chol, the head of the General Reconnaissance Bureau which oversees all espionage operations against South Korea, was granted the new title.

The latest promotions came ahead of the elder Kim's birthday on Thursday. A total of 23 military officials have been promoted, including Kim Jong-gak (62), first deputy director of Army's General Political Bureau.

Gen. Kim Yong-chol (in circle), the head of North Koreas General Reconnaissance Bureau, pays respects to the regimes late leader Kim Jong-il on Nov. 24, 2011. /[North] Korean Central News Agency Gen. Kim Yong-chol (in circle), the head of North Korea's General Reconnaissance Bureau, pays respects to the regime's late leader Kim Jong-il on Nov. 24, 2011. /[North] Korean Central News Agency

Kim Yong-chol is suspected of orchestrating all of the major provocations committed against South Korea since 2009, including the July 2009 DDoS computer virus attacks on major South Korean and U.S. government agencies.

He is also believed to have dispatched a hit team in November of 2009 to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean to defect to the South, and to have orchestrated the sinking of the Cheonan in March of 2010, which the North denies being responsible for. Kim may also have played a key role in organizing a hacking attack against South Korean lender Nonghyup in April last year.

Government sources said that if the North had sacked -- rather than rewarded -- Kim Yong-chol, it would have been construed as a genuine move to mend ties with the South, as well as a demonstration of the power and reach of its new leader.

But Kim Jong-un has shown that he has no such intentions. Ryu Dong-ryeol, a researcher at the Police Science Institute, said, "Provocations against the South led by Kim Yong-chol could become more intense this year, especially as general and presidential elections are on the calendar [in South Korea]."

Kim Jong-gak, who was promoted to vice marshal in the latest reshuffle, is close to the reclusive nation's new leader. He is in charge of monitoring all North Korean military officers and played a key role in helping his new boss solidify his grip on power over the military. Kim was one of seven officials who escorted Kim Jong-il's funeral hearse last year. He also read a eulogy to the dead leader on behalf of the military.

Meanwhile, the North Korean regime on Tuesday decided to bestow on Kim Jong-il the title of "Generalissimo" for his feats, which apparently include elevating the country's status to that of a nuclear power, and building and putting into orbit a satellite.

Until now, only Kim Il-sung, the late founder of North Korea, held the title, which was bestowed upon him two days before his 80th birthday in 1992.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 16, 2012 11:16 KST