Two weeks after being removed from office as the DPRK’s defense minister, Gen. Kim Kyok Sik has been appointed Chief of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] General Staff. Gen. Kim had been appointed Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, the country’s equivalent to defense minister, in November 2012 and held that position until early May 2013. On 13 May, DPRK state media identified Gen. Jang Jong Nam as Minister of the PAF. Gen. Kim’s removal from office, after only seven months in the position, caused a feverish amount of speculation among Pyongyang watchers some of whom interpreted his removal from office as a “purge.” Gen. Kim replaces Gen. Hyon Yong Chol, who was appointed Chief of the KPA General Staff in July 2013 after the removal of VMar Ri Yong Ho. There is no word as to whether Gen. Hyon was dismissed with prejudice or if he had been assigned another position in the KPA. One of Gen. Hyon’s last observed appearances was in late April 2013 when he attended Kim Jong Un’s (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) visit to the Haedanghwa Health Complex in Pyongyang.
Gen. Kim Kyok Sik was identified as the new head of the KPA General Staff in a Korean Central Television report about VMar Choe Ryong Hae’s 22 May (Wednesday) departure from Pyongyang Airport to visit China as the “special envoy of Kim Jong Un.” Gen. Kim previous served as Chief of the KPA General Staff from 2007 to 2009. He is the second DPRK elite to be appointed to a senior position that he previously held; the other member of the central leadership to be reappointed to his old job was Pak Pong Ju, who was appointed DPRK Cabinet Premier on 1 April 2013, having served as DPRK Premier from 2003-2007. 2007 was the same year that Kim Jong Un became a viable candidate as the late leader Kim Jong Il’s hereditary successor.
Kim Kyok Sik’s replacing Hyon Yong Chol marks the third senior KPA personnel turnover in two weeks (with Jang Jong Nam replacing Kim at MPAF, and Col. Gen. Jon Chang Bok replacing VMar Hyon Chol Hae as 1st Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces), and the eighth observed personnel change to the KPA’s high command since Kim Jong Un formally assumed the supreme leadership in January 2012. Pyongyang watchers might be forgiven if they find themselves reaching for the Dramamine with the latest change at the top of the KPA. Finding an easy rationale behind these personnel changes would be, to paraphrase one of our most astute Kumsusanologists, “shallow and misleading.”