This week there’s been an avalanche of speculation about the ousting of Ri Yong-ho, the former vice-marshall of the North Korean army and once the military’s key leader. Some evidence points towards a brutal power struggle between the country’s executive and the country’s 1.2 million strong military — a potentially major shift in the country.Officially Ri stepped down because he was sick, but reports today in South Korean media suggest he may have been forced out of office, and perhaps even have been injured or killed in a gun battle with troops when he was ordered to leave his position.
A Reuters article published today seems to support accounts of a serious rift in the country. A source tells the news agency that a new bureau set up to remove control of the decaying economy from the military, who had become key to North Korean economic life under the rule of Kim Jong Un’s father Kim Jon Il. Ri, a key ally of the elder Kim, was reportedly very much in favour of a “military first” strategy, and opposed any move away from it.
Ri’s downfall may have been spearheaded by Jang Song-thaek, who is the younger Kim’s uncle by marriage. Some North Korean experts even believe that Jang is the real power in North Korea, having become de facto leader as Kim Jong Il’s health declined. North Korea’s new vice-marshall, Choe Ryong-hae, is believed to be his right hand man, and may have been personally involved in the fire fight with Ri.
Given that this is North Korea, all the information here is unconfirmed, and has to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt (the AP points out that a lot of “unconfirmed” North Korean stories in the past have turned out to be completely wrong). However, it isn’t the only sign that a North Korea under Kim Jong Un could be very different than the one under his father — observers have already noted a growing trend towards Western fashion styles and culture. If Reuters’ source is to be believed, the country is planning on experimenting with agricultural and economic reforms.
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