The North Korean Army chief has apparently been demoted in the wake of several defections by soldiers across the heavily armed border.
Hyon Yong-chol, the chief of the North Korean Army's General Staff, is seen in a photo carried by state media wearing only the insignia of a general during a visit to the embalmed corpses of nation founder Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il to mark the 67th anniversary of the North Korean Workers Party on Wednesday.
Hyon succeeded Ri Yong-ho, who was sacked in July, and was promoted to vice marshal. A North Korean vice marshal wears one large star, while a general's insignia features four small stars. That means Hyon was demoted again just around two months after his promotion.
"The North Korean soldier who defected after shooting and killing two of his senior officers last Saturday belonged to a unit directly under the command of the General Staff," one government official here said. "It looks like Hyon was affected as punishment was meted out up the chain of command."
Some experts believe Hyon will not have to spend long in the doldrums. Last year, the head of the Operations Bureau at the General Staff, Kim Myong-guk, was demoted from four-star general to three-star general, but returned to his original rank months later.
Late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il "often demoted his military officials in order to enforce discipline and they returned to their original ranks a few months later," said an informed source.