Discontent Seen in North Korean Military

Officers voice doubts regarding Kim Jong Un's qualifications as a general.
2010-10-07
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Kim Jong Un, attending the Workers' Party Conference in Pyongyang, Sept. 28, 2010.
AFP PHOTO/KCTV

Some members of the [North] Korean People’s Army (KPA) appear to harbor quiet discontent regarding the appointment of Kim Jong Un as a four-star general, member of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.

According to an unnamed source inside the KPA, members of the military, on hearing the news, were unsure if the elevation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son was an order or official enthronement, and opinions regarding Kim Jong Un’s newly acquired status were mixed.

Believed aged 27, Kim Jong Un was named a four-star general on Sept. 27, one day before a key party conference, and was given powerful ruling party posts, apparently confirming his status as successor to his aging and ailing father.

An unnamed source in Chongjin with KPA’s 9th Division told RFA:

“On the day of the Workers’ Party conference, the KPA’s Political Guidance Bureau told all political officers at all military units that a celebration of the party conference would have to be held, and that members of the military had to gather on the conference grounds and yell ‘hurrah’ to express support for the party meeting."

According to the same source, soldiers were summoned to the conference grounds and yelled ‘hurrah’ three times as soon as the supreme commander’s announcement that Kim Jong Un had been appointed a four-star general was aired via military broadcasting.

Disappointment

However, the source said, North Korean officers and NCOs  appeared to be disappointed by the announcement that Kim Jong Un was now a four-star general and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.

The same source said that seasoned members of the KPA felt: “This was to be anticipated, but who would have thought it would happen so soon? Nevertheless, who other than General Kim would be up to this task?”

But other members of the military appeared to react cynically, saying: “This is not a celebration. This is a coercive order, basically arm-twisting. Since it is an order, we have no choice but to accept it, but we are doubtful that Kim Jong Un, in his 20s, is ready for such positions.”

A source from the 27th Border Brigade in North Hamgyeong Province said: “We are aware of rumors that General Kim Jong Un is in his 20s. Can a  fellow much younger than we are really know more than we do?”

“Because border patrol cadres use Chinese yuan or U.S. dollars," the source added, "they have intimate connections with senior officials at the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces in Pyongyang."

"Through some of these officials, we learned that the mood there is not very bright, as some of the high-ranking officials at the ministry are worried about this issue.”

According to the same source, when former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung proclaimed in December 1991 in a meeting attended by military commanders that his own son, Kim Jong Il, would be Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, the reaction was: “Given his strengths and achievements, [military officers] thought it was obvious that he would be supreme commander."

"But what has Kim Jong Un done to become a general?”

The reaction of military officers regarding North Korea’s hereditary politics and succession appears to be: “He’s lucky to be his father’s son.”

Reported by Jung Young for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Grigore Scarlatoiu.