With a terse four-paragraph statement, North Korea on Monday announced the dismissal of its top military leader, the latest in what analysts describe as a series of increasingly bold shake-ups to strengthen support for young leader Kim Jong Eun.
The North’s official media said that general Ri Yong Ho, who controlled a 1.2 million-man army, was “relieved of all his posts” because of illness.
But North Korea watchers in Seoul, Washington and Beijing quickly cast doubt on the state’s story, noting that Ri, 69, had made several high-profile public appearances earlier this month and looked healthy. Typically, experts say, the North allows its senior officials to hold their jobs even when they have terminal illnesses. Ri was dismissed following a rare Sunday meeting that brought together a handful of the country’s top decision-makers, the North said.
“My initial reaction is, this is a political move,” said Ken Gause, an Alexandria-based analyst specializing in North Korea’s leadership.