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Chief of N. Korea Military Removed Mysteriously

Officially gone because of illness, but analysts skeptical
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 16, 2012 3:34 AM CDT
Updated Jul 16, 2012 6:06 AM CDT
Chief of N. Korea Military Removed Mysteriously
(FILES) This file photo taken on September 19, 2011 shows North Korean chief nuclear negotiator Ri Yong-Ho (R) walking past Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (back L) during the commemoration of the 6th anniversary of the joint statement in the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament...   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – The top general in the North Korean military has been removed from all of his posts, military and political, reports the BBC. Officially, Ri Yong Ho has left his positions because of illness, but North Korea-watchers are skeptical. "It's quite a rare case that the North promptly and publicly announced early this morning the outcome of a meeting yesterday," a South Korean government spokesman says. "We will keep monitoring closely."

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As vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission and a senior official in the ruling Workers' Party, Ri was considered one of the seven most powerful figures in North Korea. He became head of the army three years ago and frequently appeared in public with former leader Kim Jong Il. He was thought to be a key figure in the inner circle of Kim Jong Un, so his ouster is being watched carefully for signs it could be part of a power struggle. The younger Kim never served in the army or the Workers' Party, and has few strong connections in either body. "So his position is very vulnerable because he does not know the generals and colonels who prop up the state," notes a political scientist based in South Korea. (Read more North Korea stories.)

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