N.Korean Army Chief Fingered in Syria Connection

The North Korean military is involved in the Syrian civil war at the initiative of hardline Army chief Gen. Kim Kyok-sik, the Dagongbao daily in Hong Kong speculated Monday.

Kim was allegedly behind the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. He is considered one of the key figures in the North Korean regime and was recently promoted from armed forces minister to the chief of the Army's General Staff.

Some dozen North Korean military officers were seen working with Syrian government troops on the northern battlefield of Halab, according to a group called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Information about the reality in strife-torn Syria is notoriously hard to verify, and this piece of news comes from a London-based pan-Arabic newspaper owned by a Saudi prince.

Saudi Arabia is arming the Sunni jihadist opposition to the Assad regime because Syria is a buffer state under the influence of its mortal foe Iran.

A man whose organization monitors developments on the ground has told the prince's Asharq Al-Awsat daily that the North Koreans are acting as advisers to Syrian government forces.

This handout picture from the Syrian Arab News Agency shows two military attaches from the North Korean Embassy in Syria during a visit to the Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus on March 6, 2012. This handout picture from the Syrian Arab News Agency shows two military attaches from the North Korean Embassy in Syria during a visit to the Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus on March 6, 2012.

Dagongbao pointed to Kim Kyok-sik as a likely link that would lend credence to the story, since he worked as an assistant military attache at the North Korean Embassy in Damascus in the 1970s and led North Korean and Syrian troops in joint operations for about 10 years.

Kim returned to the North around April 1982.

In Syria, he was in charge of military training and delivery of North Korean weapons.

During the fourth Middle East War in 1973, the North supported Syria's attacks on Israel. Kim is believed to have played an important role in the process. During the Syria-Lebanon War in 1982, the North also sent troops to the frontline to help Syrian troops advance into Lebanon, the daily added.

The North Korea-Syria military connection is also suspected of a crucial role in developing conventional and nuclear weapons. A nuclear facility Syria was building in the desert in the mid-2000s, allegedly with North Korean help, was destroyed by Israeli fighters in 2007.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 11, 2013 13:02 KST