N.Korea's Old Guard Sidelined

The old guard in the North Korean military appears to have been replaced by a younger generation of officers loyal to leader Kim Jong-un since the execution of former eminence grise Jang Song-taek.

Several elderly hardliners from the days of former leader Kim Jong-il were conspicuously absent from a ceremony at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang on Tuesday to mark the 22nd anniversary of Kim senior's appointment as supreme commander.

A photo of the event published by the official KCNA news agency shows a new troika of powerful officers -- military politburo chief Choe Ryong-hae, army chief Ri Yong-gil, and armed forces minister Jang Jong-nam.

This picture from the Rodong Sinmun daily shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with military officers during a visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang on Dec. 17. In second row are Jang Jong-nam, Choe Ryong-hae and Ri Yong-gil. This picture from the Rodong Sinmun daily shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with military officers during a visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang on Dec. 17. In second row are Jang Jong-nam, Choe Ryong-hae and Ri Yong-gil.

But conspicuous by their absence were veterans of the "military-first" like era National Defense Commission members Kim Yong-chun, Ri Yong-mu, O Kuk-ryol and Hyon Chol-hae, as well as key members of the old guard who were close to Jang, including Minister of People's Security Choe Bu-il.

The photo has raised speculation that the National Defense Commission, which was the most powerful decision-making body during the Kim Jong-il regime, has now grown weaker.

Although Kim Jong-un is the chairman of the National Defense Commission, the execution of Jang, its vice chairman, has apparently forced other vice chairmen -- Kim Yong-chun, Ri Yong-mu and O Kuk-ryol -- into virtual retirement.

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 26, 2013 10:48 KST