Top North Korea official missing from military events

By Elizabeth Shim  |  Feb. 23, 2016 at 11:15 AM
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SEOUL, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- North Korea's top political officer for the military has been absent from recent events, an unusual state of affairs that is prompting speculation in Seoul of a possible purge.

Hwang Pyong So of the Korean People's Army, known also as Pyongyang's third most powerful official, was not included in a list of names for state events in recent days, South Korean news service CBS No Cut News reported.

Hwang's name was not part of a list of participants at an air force training event held Saturday, where Kim Jong Un was in attendance.

Pak Yong Sik, armed forces minister; Ri Myong Su, the new North Korean army's chief of staff; Rim Kwang Il, first vice chief of the KPA General Staff attended.

Ri Myong Su recently replaced the missing Ri Yong Gil – who may have been purged or perhaps even executed.

On Tuesday, Hwang was also absent at the 70th anniversary concert of the founding of the KPA military band, attended by all of Pyongyang's top brass, including Workers' Party Secretary Kim Ki Nam.

But an unidentified South Korean Unification Ministry official said there have been instances where Hwang was absent from military training events.

North Korea has promoted displays of its military power on state television since its fourth nuclear test in January and the launch of a satellite in early February.

Pyongyang has also stepped up its defiant rhetoric and vowed revenge on anyone who challenges its "highest leader Kim Jong Un," South Korean outlet News 1 reported.

North Korea's KCNA stated Pyongyang's primary striking target, if provoked, would be Seoul's presidential "Blue House and other anti-unification ruling organs," and secondary targets could be the "U.S. imperialist invaders' military bases in the Asia Pacific region."

The statements come ahead of joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises to be held in March.

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