North Korea has ousted Pak Jong-chon, the second-most powerful military officer after leader Kim Jong-un, state media reported.
Pak, deputy chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission and secretary of the party’s Central Committee, was replaced by Ri Yong-gil at the committee’s annual meeting held last week, the official KCNA news agency reported Sunday.
No reason was given for the change. Pyongyang regularly renews its leadership and the party’s annual meeting has often been used to announce personnel changes and major political decisions.
State television showed Pak sitting in the front row of the podium with his head down during the meeting, while other members raised their hands to vote on personnel matters. Subsequently, his seat appeared unoccupied.
He was also absent from photos published Monday by the official KCNA news agency of Kim’s New Year’s Day visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses the bodies of his grandfather and father, unlike in October, when Pak accompanied Kim on a trip to the palace to mark a match anniversary.
The party’s Central Military Commission, chaired by Kim, is considered the country’s most powerful military decision-making body, ahead of the Defense Ministry.
Pak’s replacement comes at a time when Kim advocates developing new intercontinental ballistic missiles and a larger nuclear arsenal to counter the United States and South Korea as key to the isolated country’s 2023 defense strategy.