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View more articles by Hamish Macdonald
Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
Reports of a suspected shakeup in North Korea’s military leadership were confirmed Monday by state media reports detailing a recent visit by Kim Jong Un to front-line Korean People’s Army units near the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL).
During a Monday inspection of front-line units on the Jangjae and Mu Islets – the location from which artillery units launched the 2010 Yeonpyeong Island shelling –Kim Jong Un was accompanied by Jang Jong Nam and Ri Yong Gil, two recently promoted four-star generals that sat in place of former Chief of KPA General Staff Kyok Sik recent soccer match in Pyongyang.
Significantly, in the KCNA report of Kim Jong Un’s visit to the NLL, General Ri Yong Gil was listed as Chief of the Korean People’s Army General Staff, a position held by General Kim Kyok Sik until just over a week ago.
On Friday NK News reported on General Kim’s apparent disappearance from the public spotlight, a trend that had been increasingly noticeable since his last appearance in early August.
Kim’s disappearance followed an official visit he made to Cuba in early July, just weeks before Panama intercepted a Cuban arms shipment en-route to North Korea.
British North Korea expert Aidan Foster-Carter told NK News that Kim may have lost his job as a result of the affair.
“Kim Kyok Sik has not been seen since Aug 3, nearly a month. Yes, that suggests he has been sacked. He went to Cuba of course: maybe he was punished for the Panama fiasco?” he said.
“In Pyongyang, the price of failure is high – or even grim,” Foster-Carter added.
Kim Kyong Sik replaced Kim Jong Gak as the as the Minister of the People’s Armed Forces in November.
Widely believed to be the military hardliner responsible for the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong, Kim’s short tenure reflects an emerging trend of high-profile military reshuffles following Kim Jong Un’s succession to power.