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(LEAD) N. Korea appoints top defense official to lead its military's General Political Bureau

2018/02/05 14:14

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(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with additional info; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has appointed a senior defense official to lead the military's powerful General Political Bureau after dismissing its former head following an inspection, Seoul's spy agency said Monday.

During a parliamentary briefing, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said Kim Jong-gak, a vice chief of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces, was picked as the director of the bureau, while Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Won-hong, its former head and vice chief, respectively, have been dismissed.

The NIS also reported that the chances are high that the North will unveil an assortment of its missiles during a military parade reportedly scheduled for Thursday, according to Rep. Kang Seok-ho of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, who attended the briefing.

"The North's party Organization and Guidance Department had led an inspection in the bureau for three months from October," an NIS official was quoted by Kang as saying.

"As a result of the inspection, Hwang was dismissed from the bureau chief post, and he is presumed to be currently taking ideological education at a high-level party school."

   In November, the NIS told the assembly that the North conducted the rare inspection into the bureau due to its "impure attitude" for the first time in two decades.

The bureau is seen as an influential military institution, as it controls the crucial personnel management of other defense establishments.

During Monday's briefing, the NIS restated that Tunnel 3 of the North's Punggye-ri test site in its northeast is available for another test.

"Tunnel 2 has been left unattended since the sixth nuclear test (in September), while excavation work is under way at Tunnel 4," the NIS said. "Tunnel 3 is ready for a test at any time."

   It noted, too, that the North's five-mega-watt nuclear reactor in its main Yongbyon nuclear facility is in normal operation at the moment.

"The reactor has been operating for two years. So we are watching for the possibility of reprocessing (spent fuel rods)," the NIS was quoted by Rep. Lee Wan-young of the main opposition party, as saying.

As for the upcoming military parade, the NIS said that the North has been mobilizing 12,000 troops to prepare for the event at the Mirim Airport in Pyongyang since early December.

Observers have said that the North may use the parade to underscore its military might on the eve of the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in the South.

Regarding the public activities of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, while he hasn't traveled to any military sites this year, he has focused on visiting sites related to people's livelihoods.

Suh Hoon, the director of the National Intelligence Service, walks to a conference room at the National Assembly in Seoul to attend a parliamentary session on Feb. 5, 2018. (Yonhap) Suh Hoon, the director of the National Intelligence Service, walks to a conference room at the National Assembly in Seoul to attend a parliamentary session on Feb. 5, 2018. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr

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