Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
VMAR Ri Yong Ho (Chief of the KPA General Staff Department [GSD] and Central Military Commission co-Vice Chairman) was reported on 29 November attending a performance of the DPRK’s State Symphony Orchestra. This was his first public appearance since the DPRK’s 23 November artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island. Yonhap reports:
Earlier Monday, the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Ri and Kim Jong-il watched an “elegant and exquisite performance” by the North Korean State Symphony Orchestra.
Following the concert, Kim, 68, underlined “the need to represent the spiritual world of the people … and satisfactorily meet their cultural and emotional needs,” the KCNA said.
The official media usually carry reports of Kim’s activities a day or two later. The KCNA said Ri, also 68, was with Kim’s third son, Jong-un, who was unveiled to the world in September and is being groomed to take over from his aging father.
VMAR Ri’s last reported appearance with Kim Jong Il was on 20 November, when the latter participated in a political meeting of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces. Ri was not present at any of KJI’s guidance tours in Pyongyang and its surrounding areas that were reported by the DPRK press after artillery attack. VMAR Ri was also not reported to have attended Kim Jong Il’s tour of three farms in South Hwanghae. The farms tours were KJI’s last reported public appearances before the KPA’s 23 November attack.
KJI’s tour in South Hwanghae likely included visits to units of the IV Army Corps and the KPA’s Western Region Command, which are headed by Gen. Kim Kyok Sik. Gen. Kim was observed attending KJI’s tour of the Ryongyon Seaside Fish Farm and the Ryongjong Fish Breeding Ground. From 2007 to 2009, Gen. Kim served as Chief of the GSD until he was replaced by then-Pyongyng Defense Command chief, Ri Yong Ho.
Also in attendance at the fish farm was Gen. Kim Myong Kuk, chief of the GSD’s Operations Bureau [GSOB]. The GSOB is technically subordinate to the GSD Chief. However, Kim Myong Kuk has reported directly to KJI for at least two decades. He is also perched at several KPA C4 interactions.
Chosun Ilbo reports:
A seemingly innocuous picture released by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency recently showing leader Kim Jong-il and his son Jong-un visiting a duck and a fish farm has fuelled speculation that Tuesday’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island was approved from the very top.
Next to Kim father and son in the picture stands Kim Myong-guk, a four-star general and chief of the People’s Army General Staff in charge of military operations.
The farm is in Ryongyon, which faces Baeknyeong Island and is a strategic post with a heavy concentration of artillery batteries — just like Kangryong, from where North Korea fired at the island. One researcher with a state-run research institute said, “Kim Jong-il quietly visits nearby military bases when he goes on his on-the-spot guidance tours to the provinces, so it’s likely that he visited a base of the frontline Fourth Corps before the attack.”