December 19, 2012 13:04
The mystery man spotted next to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Sunday and Monday, edging top officials out of the coveted spot, has been identified as Choe Chun-sik, who heads the renegade country’s arms development.
A government source here on Tuesday said Choe seems to head the Second Academy of Natural Science charged with the North's weapons development. The institute developed the rocket that North Korea successfully launched last week, probably as a cover to test long-range missile technology.
North Korea's state media included Choe's name on the list of participants in events marking the first anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il on Sunday and the opening ceremony on Monday of the renovated Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where Kim's embalmed corpse lies.
It took government officials here some time to figure out who he was. It came to the conclusion that it would make sense to give Choe the place of honor by the leader’s side at these events, since Pyongyang has been touting the rocket launch as the realization of Kim Jong-il's last wishes, according to a Unification Ministry official.
It is unclear when Choe became head of the institute. Its most well-known leader was Ju Kyu-chang (84), now director of the Machine-Building Industry Department in the Workers' Party, who oversees the North’s arms industry.
Ju, who graduated from Kim Chaek University of Technology, headed the institute between 1991 and 1998 and spearheaded the development of the Taepodong long-range missile. Choe, who is presumed to be in his 50s or 60s, developed the rocket fired last week, which is an upgraded version of the Taepodong missile.
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