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(LEAD) N. Korea brings in moderate as new defense minister

2018/06/03 22:54

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(ATTN: UPGRADES attribution; CHANGES dateline; UPDATES throughout with comments from intelligence source)

SEOUL/TOKYO, June 3 (Yonhap) -- All of North Korea's three top military officials are believed to have been replaced, an intelligence source said Sunday, in a move that could be aimed at taming the military ahead of a denuclearization deal with the U.S.

No Kwang-chol, first vice minister of the Ministry of People's Armed Forces, replaced Pak Yong-sik as defense chief, while Ri Myong-su, chief of the KPA's general staff, was replaced by his deputy, Ri Yong-gil, according to the source.

These changes are in addition to Army Gen. Kim Su-gil's replacement of Kim Jong-gak as director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army. The replacement was confirmed in a North Korean state media report last month.

Earlier in the day, a Japanese newspaper carried a similar report.

"The North appears to have brought in new figures amid the changes in inter-Korean relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula as the previous officials lacked flexibility in thinking," the source said. "In particular, No Kwang-chol has been classified as a moderate person."

   The changes could also be aimed at taming the military because members of the armed forces could object to a denuclearization deal that leader Kim could make in the summit talks with U.S. President Donald Trump set for June 12 in Singapore.

The replacements may also represent a generational change, another intelligence source said.

In this image, captured from North Korea's Korean Central Television on July 26, 2017, Pak Yong-sik, minister of the North's People's Armed Forces, gives a speech in Pyongyang. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) In this image, captured from North Korea's Korean Central Television on July 26, 2017, Pak Yong-sik, minister of the North's People's Armed Forces, gives a speech in Pyongyang. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

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