Koreas: Blowing hot and cold

Top brass in Pyongyang reshuffled

Undated pictures released by the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling North Korean Workers Party, yesterday show Mr Kim Jong Un (above) and a meeting of the Central Military Commission (right).
Undated pictures released by the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling North Korean Workers Party, yesterday show Mr Kim Jong Un (above) and a meeting of the Central Military Commission.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Undated pictures released by the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling North Korean Workers Party, yesterday show Mr Kim Jong Un (above) and a meeting of the Central Military Commission (right).
Undated pictures released by the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling North Korean Workers Party, yesterday show Mr Kim Jong Un and a meeting of the Central Military Commission (above).PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Kim Jong Un sacks officials in move seen to be linked to 'failure' over South's loudspeaker propaganda

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has fired some senior military officials at a meeting of a top military decision-making body, it was reported yesterday, just days after the two Koreas reached an agreement to ease escalating tensions over a landmine blast.

He also underscored the need to "channel top-priority efforts into bolstering the military capability for national defence" at the meeting of the Central Military Commission (CMC), reported Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency. The agency did not give the names of the officials dismissed.

Mr Kim has repeatedly replaced senior military officials since assuming power in 2011.

No reason was given for the latest reshuffle and it is not known when it took place.

But there is speculation that it may be linked to the deal to end the military standoff or the Aug 4 landmine explosion along the border that injured two South Korean soldiers and was blamed on the North.

Tension had escalated after Seoul retaliated with the resumption of loudspeaker propaganda, which had been discontinued since 2004, at the demilitarised zone and both sides mobilised troops and exchanged fire.

The sudden change of CMC members could be a sign of Pyongyang being caught on the back foot, according to observers.

"North Korea achieved what they wanted from the negotiations, which is for the South to turn off the loudspeakers," said international relations Professor Park Ihn Hwi of Ewha Womans University.

"But the episode also showed how sensitive and unprepared they are about the broadcasts, and that's their failure."

Prof Park said the reshuffle could be to address this "minor failure", but he does not think there would be a major change of key players in the CMC.

He added that North Korea might be considering to what extent they should follow the agreement, and that clearer signs may emerge within the next two weeks.

Pyongyang had initially denied involvement in the mine blast, but later expressed "regret" over the incident. It did not give a "clear apology" as demanded by South Korean President Park Geun Hye.

The declaration of "regret" is viewed as a loss of face in North Korea. According to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, Mr Kim had disappeared from public view for a week, a sign that he might be trying to avoid public backlash.

During the CMC meeting, the Supreme Leader praised Pyongyang's initiative to embark on negotiations last Saturday, saying that it cleared "the dark clouds of war".

He added that the agreement was a turning point for both Koreas to improve their relations.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said it expects the North to abide by and "faithfully implement" the agreement, which includes a clause on organising a reunion for families separated by the border.

North Korea has since withdrawn its forces from the border, and the South is in the process of lowering its combat-readiness, the South Korean Defence Ministry said.

But yesterday, South Korea staged its biggest live fire drill with the United States along the border involving about 3,000 soldiers and more than 100 tanks, helicopters and jet fighters.

The exercise included a simulated North Korean provocation and counter-attacks - a sign that Seoul is not letting its guard down.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Top brass in Pyongyang reshuffled'. Print Edition | Subscribe