North Korea may have selected a new defense minister following the presumed execution of former office holder Hyon Yong Chol, according to a new report Friday. Analysts theorize that Hyon was killed by anti-aircraft fire for falling asleep at military events and disrespecting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.
A new video broadcast by North Korea's government-run media shows Gen. Pak Yong-Sik saluting Kim during a visit, a sign that he may have been promoted to the position. The executed minister has been removed from all state videos in the month since his death.
“When Kim inspects a military unit, its commanders -- including the defense minister, not the executives of the Politburo -- usually greet him,” said Cheong Seong-Chang, head of unification strategy research at the Sejong Institute, according to the Korean Herald.
Initially, North Korean videos kept Hyon on screen, a move that left analysts uncertain if he had been killed. Hyon has since been removed from all state videos. Analysts believe that leaving the former minister in the videos was an attempt to taper international outrage and negative reaction to the killing. South Korean officials first reported that the execution was carried out with an anti-aircraft weapon, and satellite images seem to confirm the report.
If Pak has been promoted, his path to the minister position bears a resemblence to Hyon's, who took on the role of minister in June after a promotion to four-star general, similar to Pak. He was the fourth person to take on the roll in two-and-a-half years.
In the three years since Kim Jong Un became the leader of the country, there have been many changes in government staff. It has been more frequent than in past regimes, according to the Wall Street Journal, but the regime doesn’t appear to be suffering from any major cracks or instability.
Media reports vary on when Hyon was executed. The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal both reported that Hyon was killed in October 2014, while the BBC, CNN and the Korea Herald reported it occurred in April of this year. All reports were based on reviews of satellite images, which show a group of people with six anti-aircraft weapons at a public execution site north of Pyongyang.
Dozens of officials have reportedly been executed under Kim, including an uncle who, like Hyon, was executed for treason.