News / Asia

S. Korea on Heightened Alert After North's Military Changes

South Korean passengers watch a news reporting about the North Korea's army chief Ri Yong Ho's departure on a TV screen at the Seoul train station in Seoul, South Korea, July 17, 2012.
South Korean passengers watch a news reporting about the North Korea's army chief Ri Yong Ho's departure on a TV screen at the Seoul train station in Seoul, South Korea, July 17, 2012.
SEOUL — The surprise changes in the hierarchy of North Korea's military appear to have slightly rattled officials in rival South Korea.

South Korea is acknowledging it has put its forces on a higher state of alert.

Kim Min-seok, a spokesman at the Ministry of National Defense, says the readiness posture has been "slightly raised" and the military is "analyzing carefully what is happening in North Korea" after various surprise announcements from Pyongyang this week. He adds that discussions are underway on whether there is anything South Korean forces should be prepared for, in view of the reported changes and what they are observing.

The announced personnel and title changes in Pyongyang by the reclusive and opaque government have generated headlines and widespread speculation in recent days.

A veteran military chief, vice marshal Ri Yong Ho, was stripped of all of his posts. "Illness" was given as the reason in the Monday announcement, which said the decision had come at what was apparently a hastily called meeting of the political bureau of the workers' party central committee.

A day later there was an equally sparse announcement that a little-known general, Hyon Yong Chol, had replaced Ri.

Kim Jong Un's Rise to Power

September 2010: Promoted to four-star general by his father, Kim Jong Il

December 2011: Kim Jong Il dies of a heart attack, leaving power to relatively inexperienced Kim Jong Un

February 2012: North Korea makes nuclear concessions in exchange for badly needed food aid from U.S.

April 2012: North Korea tries unsucessfully to launch rocket, leading U.S. to cancel food aid deal

May 2012: Pyongyang vows to continue developing its nuclear program, amid concerns it could conduct a third nuclear test

July 2012: Army chief Ri Yong Ho unexpectedly removed from his post because of undisclosed "illness," replaced by obscure general

July 2012: Formally declared head of North Korea's 1.2 million-strong military, effectively completing his succession to power

Another surprise followed on Wednesday when leader Kim Jong Un was declared a marshal of North Korea.

Ri, who was also army general staff chief, early last month had issued an ultimatum against South Korea. He declared that Seoul would face a "merciless sacred war" unless it apologized for perceived insults.

Little more than a month before that threat, Pyongyang had announced it was preparing a "special operation" against Seoul.

South Korean official sources say American forces increased gathering of aerial intelligence over North Korea, this week, but have not detected any significant changes in military movements.

Jennifer Buschick, a spokesperson for the U.S. forces in South Korea, says: "As a matter of policy we do not discuss our security posture. We continue to monitor the situation with our Republic of Korea counterparts. The commander continually assesses and makes adjustments as necessary for the protection of our forces."

Professor Kim Yeon-soo at South Korea's National Defense University says the government in Seoul is reacting more prudently than it might have in past years.

He says increasing the readiness posture is in line with the government's greater scrutiny of activities in the North since the sinking of the Cheonan naval vessel and the shelling of Yeongpyeong island, which both occurred in 2010.

Some analysts contend an internal power struggle is now likely underway in Pyongyang. Others discount that, saying all of this may be nothing more than a young leader prudently proceeding to put his own stamp on the state apparatus.

Professor Kim says it is difficult to make any conclusions because no internal conflicts are evident.

He says it appears North Korea's military is stable and there is solidarity among Pyongyang's elite. Kim says he thinks North Korea is beginning to follow China's path of reform for its long-term survival and Beijing is pushing Pyongyang to reform and open to the outside world.

The two Koreas have no diplomatic relations. A three-year Korean civil war in the early 1950's ended inconclusively. During the devastating conflict, China backed North Korea while the United States - accompanied by United Nations forces - fought on South Korea's side.

North Korea maintains an army with more than one million troops on active duty. South Korea has about 650,000 regular forces allied with more than 28,000 American military personnel stationed in the country.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jim Peffercorn from: Iowa
July 19, 2012 11:46 AM
It would seem that this is good news for South Korea and the rest of the world. If Kim Jong wanted iron fisted rule, he could have left the General in his post. He's certainly trying to project a friendlier image. Let's hope that the aggravation and pain the world has received from the North is over.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid