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Top N.K. military official makes first public appearance in 3 weeks

2015/12/03 08:43

SEOUL, Dec. 3 (Yonhap) -- Top North Korean military official Hwang Pyong-so has made his first public appearance in about three weeks, the North's media showed Thursday, amid speculation that he went abroad for medical treatment.

The 75-year-old director of the general political bureau of the Korean People's Army (KPA) has accompanied the North's leader Kim Jong-un on his visit to a tree nursery unit under the military, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

It marked the first time that Hwang has shown up at a major public event since he delivered a eulogy at a state funeral for a military marshal in early November.

Hwang is believed to have returned to Pyongyang after recently visiting China to get surgery on his backbone, according to a source familiar to North Korean affairs.

The sudden disappearance of North Korean officials from the public eye is usually viewed by outside analysts as being linked to a possible purge or punishment.

But experts have downplayed speculation that he might have been disgraced, citing his firm position in the North.

Hwang's status in the North is widely seen as relatively stable, as he was recently granted the title of the country's "hero" in recognition of his role in ending South Korea's resumption of an anti-Pyongyang loudspeaker campaign.