Who Is the Mystery Man Next to Kim Jong-un?

A mystery man was spotted next to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a ceremony on Sunday marking the first anniversary of former leader Kim Jong-il's death.

The man, dressed in a suit and tie, occupied a place close to the leader reserved for the No. 1 military official, and South Korean intelligence are trying to find out who he is.

Since Kim Jong-un seems lately more concerned about his personal safety, the man may just be a body guard, an intelligence official here said.

An unidentified man (marked) stands next to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a ceremony on Sunday marking the first anniversary of former leader Kim Jong-ils death. /Kyodo-Yonhap An unidentified man (marked) stands next to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a ceremony on Sunday marking the first anniversary of former leader Kim Jong-il's death. /Kyodo-Yonhap

Meanwhile, the official whose place the mystery man occupied, Choe Ryong-hae, has apparently been demoted to his former rank of general from vice marshal. Choe, the director of the People's Army General Political Bureau, gave a speech at the ceremony and was introduced by the title of general.

Choe, who is thought to be close to North Korean eminence grise Jang Song-taek, was appointed four-star general in September of 2010 despite having no military experience. He was apparently promoted to vice marshal in April at the same time as being appointed politburo director.

The General Political Bureau is a powerful organization that monitors the ideological soundness of all North Korean officers, from front-line platoon leaders to the joint chiefs of staff. Choe reportedly used his position to wrest control of the various lucrative businesses run by the military and spearheaded the sacking of army chief Ri Yong-ho last July.

"North Korean military officers are very upset at what Choe has been doing since stepping into power," the intelligence official said. Choe's demotion is viewed as an attempt to appease restive officers.

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 17, 2012 12:36 KST