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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid