January 19, 2016 11:37
The elderly North Korean hardliner behind the sinking of a South Korean Navy corvette in 2010 has apparently been appointed to lead the Workers Party office dealing with cross-border affairs.
The appointment of Kim Yong-chol (70), formerly head of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, to helm the United Front Department, provides more fuel to speculation that military hardliners are gaining the upper hand in internal powers struggles.
Kim Yong-chol replaces Kim Yang-gon, who died in a mysterious car accident late last year, according to government sources here Monday.
Born in Ryanggang Province in 1946, Kim Yong-chol graduated from Kim Il-sung Military Academy and rose to the position of chief of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance in February of 2009.
He is believed to have orchestrated two deadly North Korean attacks against South Korea the following year -- the sinking of the corvette Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, which together killed 50 South Koreans, including two civilians.
He is also believed to have been behind a box mine attack in the demilitarized zone last August that maimed two South Korean soldiers. He took part in talks to ease cross-border tensions shortly afterwards.
A Unification Ministry official said when Kim Yong-chol paid the traditional New Year's homage at the embalmed corpses of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, he was still in uniform. Since the head of the United Front Department is a civilian post, the new appointment must be very recent.
"If Kim Yong-chol is now head of the United Front Department, we must assume that the dovish approach to the South taken by Kim Yang-gon has been abandoned," said Cho Han-bum at the Korea Institute for National Unification. "He will probably neglect any dialogue role the department has and boost its espionage operations."
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