N. Korea's chief of missile operations absent from public eye, triggers speculations
SEOUL, Feb. 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's missile operations commander did not show up for a key military event this week, an unusual absence which some observers linked to the country's alleged preparations for an intercontinental missile (ICBM) launch.
Gen. Kim Rak-gyom, the chief of strategic forces, wasn't present at the defense ministry's briefing session Tuesday marking the 69th anniversary of the North Korean armed forces. It was broadcast one day later by the state-run Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station.
Top military official Hwang Pyong-so headed the event which brought together the commanders of key military branches, including chief of staff Ri Myong-su and the navy and air force commanders.
Observers here linked his absence with North Korea's possible preparations for the test of an ICBM.
In his New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said preparations for an ICBM launch are in the final stages, hinting at an imminent test launch.
On the other hand, Kim's absence could be the result of a possible purge due to repeated failures in mid-range Musudan ballistic missile tests last year, according to observers.
Kim had been absent from the public eye since June amid rumors here that he may have been held accountable after a series of Musudan launch attempts ended in failure last year.
"It could also be either that the strategic forces commander was replaced or he is occupied with other matters," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.