N.Korean Ex-Army Chief 'Locked Horns with Technocrats'

      May 15, 2015 09:39

      Hyon Yong-chol

      North Korean armed forces minister Hyon Yong-chol was executed because he fell foul of a younger generation of technocrats that make up the core of leader Kim Jong-un's regime, American experts estimate.

      Ex-State Department official John Merrill told Radio Free Asia there was probably conflict between Kim and the military over where to spend resources and money.

      Merrill based his surmise on the fact that several senior leaders in the unruly military have been purged while the technocrats seem secure in their posts.

      "Military officials in North Korea seem to be more under fire than those in charge of economic policy," Merrill said.

      Premier Pak Pong-ju, the most senior technocrat, fell out of favor with former leader Kim Jong-il but was reappointed as premier in April 2013 and has since held on to his post.

      Meanwhile the chief of the Army politburo, the minister of the People's Armed Forces, and the Army chief of staff -- the top three military posts -- have been reshuffled several times. Armed forces ministers have served on average eight months.

      Among more adventurous speculation here has been that Hyon was executed because he fell asleep during one of Kim’s speeches.

      But the government here believes Merrill may be on to something. "Since he took power, Kim Jong-un has given more weight to technocrats, promoting them to senior positions in the Workers Party, a supreme body superior to the Cabinet," a government official here said.

      There has been repeated conflict between military leaders and technocrats over lucrative projects handled by former eminence grise Jang Song-taek since his execution. Pundits say it must have been in this process that Hyon and other military leaders were purged.

      The military accrued enormous power under Kim Jong-il's "military-first" doctrine and became a virtual state within the state that was difficult to restrain even by the leader.

      Another U.S. expert speculated that Kim is taking extreme measures to appease complaints about economic hardship.

      Ken Gause of the Center for Naval Analyses said despite his repeated vows to solve the chronic food shortage, Kim has made little economic progress and is using the political struggle to offset this failure.

      Meanwhile, North Korean state media Thursday still carried old footage of Kim inspecting a site accompanied by Hyon, and there has been no official response to South Korean reports about Hyon's execution.

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