North Korea replaced its hard-line defense minister with a little-known army general, state media reported on Monday, in a further reshuffling of the top military leadership by Kim Jong Un.
General Jang Jong Nam was named “minister of the People's Armed Forces” replacing Kim Kyok Sik, who is known to have been behind the 2010 shelling of a South Korean island that killed four people. The hawkish minister held the post for about seven months and was a four-star general in the Korean People's Army (KPA).
Jang is the third official to take the role since Kim Jong Un formally assumed power in late 2011, according to a Reuters news agency report.
Jang was previously the commander of the First Corps of the Korean People's Army, the report added.
The latest change in North Korea’s defense ministry isn't thought to indicate a potential softening of Pyongyang's stance toward Seoul and Washington any time soon, the Associated Press reported citing analysts.
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Jang was promoted to major general in April 2002 and lieutenant general in November of 2011, and until recently was reported to be the commander of the KPA's First Corps in Kangwon Province on the east coast, Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported. A photo by the Rodong Sinmun, a newspaper run by the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, published earlier in the day showed him as a three-star colonel general, the report added.
Kim Jong Un began the reshuffle by sacking of the chief of the General Staff of the KPA, Ri Yong Ho, and replacing him with Hyon Yong Chol, last July.
The latest change came days after Pyongyang lifted the high state of military readiness it ordered in response to a joint U.S.-South Korea military exercise named "Foal Eagle," that ended on April 30.
“Our military is attentively tracing the latest trend of the North Korean military, including replacement of high military ranks,” South Korea’s defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing, as reported by Yonhap. “It needs more analysis to conclude whether (North Korea) has replaced hardliners, but it does seem that military commanders have become really younger.”