June 16, 2011 12:32
North Korea's military apparently boosted its role and political influence over the regime by sending a senior-ranking official to oversee a secret meeting with South Korea in May, government sources said on Wednesday.
Pak Chul, a brigadier general who is believed to be the second-highest-ranking official at the policy department of the North's National Defense Commission after Maj. Gen. Pak Rim-su, headed up the delegation in May.
"This is the first time that Pak Chul has headed a North Korean delegation," said the South Korean government source, adding that this confirms the administration's long-held belief that the North's military is in charge of dealing with issues relating to South Korea.
Along with Pak Rim-su and Col. Ri Son-gwon, Pak Chul is considered to be among the top three officials at the National Defense Commission, headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
"Ri headed the North Korean delegation during the working-level military talks back in February, but then suddenly decided to break off the talks," the source said. "This time, the policy department again headed the secret meeting and unexpectedly halted the contacts."
The talks came to an abrupt end when the North went public about the clandestine meeting and threatened to release taped recordings verifying what it claims were bribes offered by the South to host a series of inter-Korean summits.
Pyongyang combined all of the departments that conduct espionage operations against Seoul under its General Bureau of Reconnaissance in late 2009, according to another source who is familiar with North Korean affairs. The bureau was placed under the control of the policy department at the National Defense Commission, which is in charge of handling inter-Korean military talks.
The situation was markedly different in October of 2009, when the North held secret talks with South Korea in Singapore. At that time, the North's delegation was headed by officials from the United Front Department at the Workers Party, which handled inter-Korean dialogue during the administrations of former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
However since the sinking of the South's Navy corvette Cheonan in March of last year, military hawks have assumed control of inter-Korean dialogue, using both negotiations and provocations as leverage, local government officials speculate.
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