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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
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.

AppleAndroid