Another official of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party – Ma Won Chun – has been given a prominent military position, a KCNA report published on Monday has indicated.
Ma appeared in state media in military uniform and was referred to by military rank – lieutenant general – for the first time Monday as he accompanied Kim Jong Un on a visit to Taesongsan General Hospital.
The report also described Ma as director of the Designing Department of the National Defense Commission. Although this doesn’t constitute full membership of the NDC, this puts Ma in charge of an organization directly under the commission and may be a step toward eventual full membership. The NDC is the highest military organization and, along with the party Central Military Commission, creates military and security policy. The role of the designing department is likely to plan and direct military building projects.
But Ma has, until now, primarily been a civilian official of the party with technical expertise. If he has served in the military before, it was likely only briefly; though it’s possible he remained a reserve officer. Civilian party officials in North Korea sometimes hold reserve military ranks as a formality while not appearing in uniform or being involved much with military operations.
The appointment of Ma to a general officer rank and military-related position continues a trend of putting party officials more associated with the new generation of leadership in positions of influence over the military. Ma appears to be a member of a core group with a great deal of influence and the most direct access to Kim. Another party official and member of this group, Hwang Pyong So, was recently made a vice marshal and director of the KPA General Political Bureau, which manages party control of the military.
Ma was already a deputy director of a department in the WPK, probably the Finance & Accounting Department, a member of the party Central Committee, and is responsible for the capital construction portfolio. Aside from being a party official, his background and experience is believed to be primarily in architecture and construction, so his posting to head of the designing department is logical.
Ma first appeared publicly with the leadership in 2012, after Kim became the country’s new ruler, and is seen with Kim regularly. As seen in the NK Leadership Tracker, he quickly went from only 13 appearances with Kim in 2012 to 59 in 2013. So far this year, he has made 24 appearances, nearly five times that of the same period in 2013.
Main Photo: KCNA | Ma Won Chun second from right
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