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Seoul monitoring North Korea after possible demotion of top military commanders

Seoul monitoring North Korea after possible demotion of top military commanders
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) attended an expanded meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea on Tuesday. Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE

July 1 (UPI) -- Lack of participation from North Korea's military top brass at the Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party is prompting speculation of demotions or dismissals in the South, where the military said it is keeping an eye on developments.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Kim Joon-rak said Thursday at a regular press briefing that no unusual trends have been identified in Seoul after Kim Jong Un upbraided officials for failures in coronavirus prevention and disclosed replacements, Newsis reported.

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"We believe that the North Korean military's summer training will begin around July," Kim said. "We are currently following and monitoring related activities closely. Further evaluation is required."

Kim's statement comes after South Korean analysts said North Korean officials Ri Pyong Chol, Pak Jong Chon and Choe Sang Gon either were not voting or not attending Tuesday's meeting, at which Kim Jong Un criticized his subordinates for poor planning amid the pandemic.

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Ri was a rising star in the North Korean bureaucracy last year, when he was identified as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Pak Jong Chon is the chief of the military's general staff and a Politburo member. South Korean media has identified Choe Sang Gon as party secretary and director of the science and education department.

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Ri and Pak were seen on stage with Kim, but not voting with other officials. State television footage showed the two officials showing little to no movement while Kim unleashes a litany of complaints about policy failures.

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Choe, who was appointed a party secretary in January, was absent from the meeting Tuesday. An official from Seoul's unification ministry said that it is likely "personnel changes" have occurred in the North because of the "major incident" ensuing from the coronavirus that was unnerving Kim, News 1 reported Thursday.

Kim had said Tuesday the state's failure to properly respond to the coronavirus caused a "great crisis."

North Korea's military is involved in various state projects, including construction. Kim may have mobilized the military to fight COVID-19, according to the report.

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