Kim Jong-un Loyalist Promoted to Vice Marshal

The North Koran regime has promoted a relatively obscure general to vice marshal a day after abruptly dismissing the army chief. The official KCNA news agency on Tuesday said Hyon Yong-chol was promoted to the post of vice marshal a day after the firing of Ri Yong-ho, who held the same rank.

A government official here speculated that the promotion was the first step to Hyon's eventual rise to the vacant post as army chief.

High-ranking North Korean military officials including Hyon Yong-chol (in circle) welcome leader Kim Jong-un as he inspects a military drill marking the 80th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Army in April. /[North] Korean Central News Agency-Yonhap High-ranking North Korean military officials including Hyon Yong-chol (in circle) welcome leader Kim Jong-un as he inspects a military drill marking the 80th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Army in April. /[North] Korean Central News Agency-Yonhap

Hyon first appeared on the radar of South Korean intelligence after then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il promoted him to the rank of general along with his son Kim Jong-un, Jong-un's aunt Kim Kyong-hui, Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the General Political Bureau of the People's Army, Choe Bu-il, deputy chief of the military, and Kim Kyong-ok, first vice director of the Workers Party.

That order first brought present leader Kim Jong-un to the attention of the world, a Unification Ministry official said. "The fact that Hyon's name was part of the list demonstrates his stature," the official added. All six generals are now key officials behind Kim Jong-un.

But a government official here said Hyon does not have the same clout in the military as Ri, who rose through the ranks as a field commander and was renowned as an artillery specialist.

"We will have to wait and see whether he will be able to fill Ri's shoes or will remain a puppet" for Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-taek and Choe Ryong-hae, who ousted Ri, the official added.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 18, 2012 09:41 KST