Military Policy To Remain

No change is seen in North Korea's much criticized 'military first' policy after Kim Jong Il's death.

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Photo handed out by North Korea's state KCNA news agency shows military officers crying as they pay their last respects to Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, Dec. 20, 2011.

A week after Kim Jong Il's death, signs are emerging that power in North Korea will remain in the hands of the military.

At the weekend, Pyongyang hailed Kim's heir-apparent son Kim Jong Un as "supreme leader" of the 1.2-million strong military.

And footage on state television suggested that the junior Kim's chief adviser, uncle Jang Song Thaek, may have secured a key role in the armed forces.

The new title bestowed on the younger Kim, already a four-star general although only in his 20's, and Jang's appearance in uniform signals that North Korea will maintain Kim Jong Il's Songun or "military first" policy, experts say.

The policy has kept the reclusive North Korea on combat alert since the Korean War ended in 1953 and has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of people to starvation as the Kim regime diverted resources to its armed forces.

Jang, usually seen in business suits, has appeared for the first time in military uniform, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

State TV showed him paying respects before Kim's body lying in state at Kumsusan Memorial Palace.
The 65-year-old Jang, the most influential adviser to Kim Jong Un, donned a uniform with a general's insignia, indicating he has been appointed to a new military job ahead of Kim's funeral on Dec. 28.

It underscored his key role in securing the rise to power of the junior Kim, North Korea's third-generation hereditary leader after the late Kim succeeded his own father Kim Il Sung in the 1990s.

First time

On Saturday, North Korea's ruling Workers' Party hailed Kim Jong Un as supreme commander of the military.

"We will uphold Comrade Kim Jong Un as our supreme commander and general and we will bring the Songun revolution to a completion," the Rodong Sinmun, the party's mouthpiece said in an editorial.

It is the first time that the North's state media has used the title supreme commander—a post previously held by his father—for the new leader.

Kim Jong Il was chairman of the National Defense Commission while concurrently serving as supreme commander of the Korean People's Army, the fourth-largest standing army in the world, and general secretary of the ruling party.

He was also the head of the Central Military Commission, an organ of the party responsible of coordinating the party organizations within the Korean People's Army.

Alexander Mansourov, a Russian-born scholar and North Korea watcher at the Johns Hopkins University told RFA that Kim Jong Un is expected to officially assume as supreme commander and the top post at the Central Military Commission by early next year.

"In order not to leave a power vacuum, Kim Jong Un will assume the two key positions as soon as possible after the mourning period ends on the 29th of December," he said.

The junior Kim was appointed vice chairman of the Central Military Commission after he was unveiled in September 2010 as his father's choice as successor.


A senior source told Reuters news agency last week that Pyongyang will shift from a strongman dictatorship to a coterie of rulers including the military and Jang, who had married the daughter of the country's revolutionary founder, Kim Il Sung, in 1972.

At the Kumsusan Memorial Palace at the weekend, Kim Jong Un and senior military commanders paid silent tribute to Kim Jong Il, "praying for his immortality," state news agency KCNA said.

The military also pledged its loyalty to Kim Jong Un, the report said.

"Let the whole army remain true to the leadership of Kim Jong Un over the army," KCNA reported—a pledge reminiscent of those made when Kim Jong Il was named supreme commander.

Reported by RFA's Korean service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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