North Korea has appointed a new minister of the People’s Armed Forces, Hyon Yong Chol, replacing Jang Jong Nam sometime earlier this month. Hyon was referred to as minister of the People’s Armed Forces – North Korea’s equivalent of a defense minister – in a KCTV broadcast about the construction of the Satellite (Wisong) Scientists’ Street in Pyongyang on June 25. His predecessor, Jang Jong Nam, was last referred to by this title on June 4, so the change has taken place within the past three weeks.
Hyon previously served as chief of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) General Staff from July 2012 to May 2013. At the time, he was also appointed vice chairman of the Party Central Military Commission (CMC) and held the rank of vice marshal, but was demoted in October 2012 to general. He may have again been demoted to colonel general when he was replaced as chief of the KPA General Staff and made commander of V Corps in May of last year. He now holds the rank of full general. He is also an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Hyon was born in 1949 in North Hamgyong Province and joined the KPA in 1966.
Hyon had not, prior to this recent broadcast, been officially mentioned in state media since April 2013, though he was visible in KCTV footage of the arrest of Jang Song Thaek in December.
Jang Jong Nam, a general in the KPA, had held the post as minister of the People’s Armed Forces since May of last year. He’s also a member of both the CMC and the National Defense Commission (NDC). It is unknown if he retains these posts and his rank or whether he’s to be given another new position. Jang has not been mentioned in state media since June 4.
The Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces is North Korea’s defense ministry and is responsible for administrative operation of the Korean People’s Army and coordinating between the military and other organizations. This includes representing the Korean People’s Army in any military-to-military relations with foreign countries. It is not responsible for actual operational control of units – which is the role of the KPA General Staff department – or to make policy, which is done by the CMC and NDC.
The choice of the new minister is somewhat unexpected as Hyon had not been publicly active in some time and had most recently dropped in rank and position. It is possible Hyon is closer to some of the other prominent officials that have recently risen to greater influence, such as Hwang Pyong So and Pyon In Son, or that he has some expertise in an area of concern for North Korea’s military right now. It’s also possible that aspects of the KPA’s administration by the MPAF have not met the standards of the leadership. A new vice minister in MPAF, Kim Jong Gwan, was also recently appointed.
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