North Korea promotes general to ruling party’s powerful presidium

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un takes part in the third enlarged meeting of the political bureau of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang, North Korea September 2, 2021 in this image supplied by North Kore

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has elevated a general long seen as a rising star in the country’s powerful military and a major player in its missile programme to a position in the presidium of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) politburo, state media reported on Tuesday.

Pak Jong Chon will also serve as secretary of the WPK Central Committee, KCNA news agency said.

His election to the presidium, one of the most powerful decision-making bodies in North Korea, came after he appeared to face reprimand or demotion in July after leader Kim Jong Un accused officials of causing a “great crisis” with unspecified coronavirus lapses.

North Korea has not reported any confirmed cases of the virus, and never elaborated on what the crises or the lapses were.

In recent years Pak was promoted to a full four-star Army general, led the military as chief of the general staff of the army, and made prominent appearances alongside Kim, including on a famous horse ride up North Korea’s sacred Mt. Paektu.

Analysts attributed his rise in part to his role in North Korea’s short-range missile development, which surged ahead after Kim suspended long-range ballistic missile tests in 2018 amid talks with the United States.

Pak appears to have replaced Ri Pyong-chol, another powerful general who played a major role in North Korea’s ballistic missile programme, on the presidium, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Analysts said the reshuffling in July was the most significant personnel change among the core elite in years, and was seen as a likely warning to them that Kim would hold them accountable and maintain checks on their power.

Rim Kwang-il, who served as head of North Korea’s military intelligence agency, was named as chief of the general staff of the army, while army general Jang Jong-nam was elected as the Minister of Social Security, KCNA said on Tuesday.

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