Kim Jong-un Inspects Nuclear, Missile Unit

      February 23, 2012 09:45

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (second from left) inspects the North Korean Army’s 842nd Unit. /[North] Korean Central TV-Yonhap

      New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspected Army Unit 842, North Korea's state-run media reported on Tuesday. The unit, which is under the direct control of the General Staff in charge of all military operations, is said to be tasked with handling the North's nuclear weapons and medium and long-range missiles.

      A South Korean security official said, "The North's nuclear weapons and missiles are under a control system whereby the supreme commander (Kim Jong-un), who is usually concurrently chairman of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission, gives an order to the chief of the General Staff (Ri Yong-ho) to launch a missile, and then the chief of the unit (Choe Sang-ryo) executes the order."

      The unit has rarely been exposed to the outside due to its strategic importance. During his lifetime, former leader Kim Jong-il, who died late last year, never publicized his visits to the unit.

      A researcher of a South Korean government-funded think tank said, "We're trying to find out why Kim Jong-un openly visited the military unit. At first glance, he was apparently trying to demonstrate that he's firmly taken control of the nuclear weapons."

      Another government official pointed out that Kim Jong-il used to visit nuclear- or missile-related units two or three months ahead of nuclear tests or missile test-launches. "Nobody can rule out that the North will conduct a third nuclear test or test-launch a long-range missile right after the centennial of regime founder Kim Il-sung on April 15," he added.

      But others speculate that the visit was part of psychological warfare against the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. The regime in a statement Wednesday called the summit a "grave provocation" and pledged "not to stand by idly" but to "resolutely thwart the nuclear racket aimed at" the North.

      A South Korean government official said the statement "doesn't deserve a response."

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