News / Asia

North Korea Dismisses Top Military Leader

SEOUL — North Korea has announced the removal of its military chief, a key advisor to leader Kim Jong Un.

In a surprise radio announcement Monday, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho has been removed from all this posts because of illness.

The radio announcer said the decision was made by the Workers' Party central committee political bureau and included the removal of Ri from the presidium of the politburo, considered North Korea's most powerful body.

Ri became head of North Korea's army three years ago.

The terse announcement caught officials and analysts in South Korea by surprise.  They note Pyongyang rarely removes top figures for health reasons.

Kim Hyung-suk is a spokesman for the Unification Ministry in Seoul, which oversees North-South relations.

Kim terms it as "very unusual" the announcement was broadcast less than a day after Ri was removed from his posts.  He says South Korea's government has no more to say at this point and it is closely monitoring the situation for further information.

Analyst Chon Hyun-joon, a senior researcher at Seoul's state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification, contends that even if the 70-year-old Ri is actually ill, he would not have been dismissed from all of his positions.

Chon says there is no doubt Ri, a hardliner, lost a power struggle with moderates.  The analyst says this denotes a collapse of one of the supports for the military - the other axis being the political chief of the army.

Chon predicts the change will allow Kim Jong Un to proceed with a more flexible diplomatic policy.

Ri, a third generation member of Pyongyang's elite inner circle, served in top positions under Kim Jong Il.  He was one of the eight who walked alongside the late leader's hearse during the December 28, 2011 funeral procession.

Ri was last seen in public accompanying Kim Jong Un on July 8, during a commemoration of the death of the country's founder Kim Il Sung - the grandfather of the current leader.

Since the junior Kim took power his military increased its bellicose rhetoric towards the South.

The country also failed to launch what it claimed was a peaceful earth-observation satellite.  The United States and its allies contend it was a ballistic missile launch April 13th that went awry.

An additional factor for the high tensions on the Korean peninsula is the North's nuclear-weapons development.  There has been speculation that with the leadership change the impoverished country would soon conduct a third atomic test.

The two Koreas have no diplomatic relations.  They fought a three-year war to a stalemate in the early 1950's.  Since then the United States has maintained a significant military presence in the South.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

US Companies Pledge Action on Climate Change

Goals include reducing emissions by as much as 50 percent, reducing water usage by 80 percent, and buying 100 percent renewable energy

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

UNICEF: Hidden Epidemic of HIV Among Adolescents

Researchers warn that Asia Pacific nations facing sharp rise in incidence of HIV among adolescents

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Don
July 16, 2012 12:05 PM
removed because of illness = They took him out and shot him.
In Response

by: Matt from: Salt Lake City, UT
July 16, 2012 3:37 PM
Death is a very serious illness. Really impedes your work.

by: Jack Manning from: Metro Detroit
July 16, 2012 11:44 AM
Also another reason for dismissal was that his hat didn't fit right and kept falling down over his face.

by: Witness from: Syria
July 16, 2012 11:17 AM
North Korea is to China, as Israel is to the United States.... Just an extension of power under a different name... Without each super-power, the country in question could not exist.
In Response

by: Michael from: United States
July 16, 2012 4:07 PM
Absolutely correct, despite what the know nothings might say.
In Response

by: Zippy from: Sweden
July 16, 2012 12:54 PM
You forgot as Syria is to Russia.
In Response

by: Yuriy from: U.S.
July 16, 2012 12:42 PM
Wow that's stupid. Israel existed without U.S. for 20 years. In fact people in the U.S. were arrested for giving Israel help.
In Response

by: Joe from: America
July 16, 2012 12:04 PM
Wow a comment like that from a country that dosent know its ass from its head. Keep talking moron.

by: douglas finlayson from: chicago
July 16, 2012 10:43 AM
I knew something like this was coming. Anybody who likes Minny Mouse and Goofy must be a nice person inside.
Whats next? Freeing the slaves? Tourism? T-shirt factories?
In Response

by: Tom from: USA
July 16, 2012 12:36 PM
What are you talking about Douglas?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs