Korean War Armistice Signing Anniversary

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Truce In Korea 1953

This past July 27th marked the 59th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that officially put the Korean War on hold. It was a silent holiday that went nearly unnoticed by the world. However, for those soldiers who lived through the Korean War, this was an important day, no matter what side they fought on, and many gathered to remember and to celebrate.

In North Korea, this day was celebrated with war veterans visiting Panmunjom to pledge their unchanging loyalty to North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un. Fireworks were also fired to celebrate the day. The commemorations are meant to kindle patriotism and loyalty in North Koreans, and especially the young, by showcasing veterans who fought for their country, said Kim Yeon-su of Korea National Defense University in Seoul. Ahead of the anniversary, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its long-standing demand that the United States sign a peace treaty with North Korea to replace the armistice. However, the United States continues to stand by its claim that normal ties will only come after North Korea abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons and takes other steps towards change. Continue reading

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In the News – Both Koreas mark 59 years since war armistice after North announced military changes

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In the News – Both Koreas mark 59 years since war armistice after North announced military changes

 

PANMUNJOM, Korea — Elderly North Korean veterans pledged loyalty to their 20-something leader in Pyongyang during Korean War armistice commemorations Friday that were being closely watched after Kim Jong Un reshuffled the military and revealed he’s married.

Over the last two weeks, Kim has taken on the title of marshal and replaced his army chief — once a key mentor. Both moves were seen as an effort to build loyalty among the million-man armed forces and solidify his credentials as commander.

North Korea also revealed Wednesday that the stylish woman at Kim’s side in some public appearances this month is his wife. Images of her walking with Kim were choreographed to show the leader as modern, mature and down-to-earth, analysts said, and contrast sharply to his intensely private father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled for 17 years before his death in December.

Kim Jong Un and his wife weren’t at Friday’s event. Hundreds of aging veterans were shown on state television in a huge auditorium as Choe Ryong Hae, the military’s top political officer, stood beneath giant portraits of Kim Jong Il and North Korea founder Kim Il Sung and urged the crowd to “follow the leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un and win 100 out of 100 battles.”

North Korea later set off fireworks. At another location earlier in the day, soldiers from a tank unit named after military officer Ryu Kyong Su, famous in North Korea for leading troops during the war, also staged firing drills.

The commemorations are meant to kindle patriotism and loyalty in North Koreans, and especially the young, by showcasing veterans who fought for their country, said Kim Yeon-su of Korea National Defense University in Seoul.

Separately, North Korea is filling vacancies left by the sudden dismissal of former army chief Ri Yong Ho. Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency introduced the new military chief, Hyon Yong Chol, as Ri’s successor as a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party in a dispatch Friday. Hyon was promoted to vice marshal and chief of general staff after Ri was dismissed earlier this month. Kim Jong Un chairs the commission.

While South Korea and the U.S.-led U.N. forces that fought in the Korean War call Friday the 59th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 conflict, North Korea calls it a celebration of “victory in the Fatherland Liberation War” and veterans streamed into the capital.

“Airports, railway stations and parking lots were crowded with delegates to the celebrations, their comrades-in-arms, families and relatives, people from all walks of life and youth and students,” KCNA said.

U.S. and South Korean officials marked the armistice at the border village of Panmunjom. Because no peace treaty was signed, the Korean Peninsula remains technically in a state of war.

Ahead of the anniversary, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its long-standing demand that the United States sign a peace treaty with North Korea to replace the armistice.

Washington says normal ties will only come after North Korea abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons and takes other steps. International nuclear disarmament talks have been stalled since late 2008, and animosity between the Koreas is high.

Original Article

In the News – N.Korea Stations Attack Helicopters Near Sea Border

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In the News – N.Korea Stations Attack Helicopters Near Sea Border

North Korea has deployed around 20 helicopters at two bases near South Korea’s Baeknyeong Island in the West Sea, according to a government source here. They include attack helicopters that are capable of engaging targets on the ground.

Baeknyeong Island is South Korea’s northernmost island that lies just south of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border with North Korea. The North has deployed the attack and transport helicopters at air bases since May, the source said. “They seem to have been put there independently of any military exercises,” the source added.

The choppers are upgraded versions of Mi-2s as well as Mi-4 and Mi-8 troop carriers. But some are armed with heavy machine guns and rockets.

The deployment is believed to be part of a strategy targeting the South Korean islands that would also involve hydrofoils.

After Kim Jong-un took power at the end of last year, North Korea deployed rocket launchers, hydrofoils, Mi-2 helicopters and fighter jets on the western coastline and conducted military drills which appeared to prepare for an invasion of the South Korean islands. The deployment of the helicopters seems to be a response to South Korea deploying AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters and multiple launch rocket systems on the West Sea islands.

The South Korean military is ready to strike back with Cheonma surface-to-air-missiles or deploy KF-16 fighter jets if the North mobilizes a large number of choppers.

The South Korean military also plans to bolster anti-aircraft weapons stationed on the West Sea islands if the ones already deployed there are deemed insufficient to fend off a North Korean invasion.

“There are no signs yet that North Korea is seeking to stage a provocation,” said a military source. “But since the ouster of North Korean army chief Ri Yong-ho, there may be some instability in the North Korean army, so we have stepped up our preparedness.”

Original Article 

In the News – Park Geun-hye calls for implementation of previous inter-Korean deals

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In the News – Park Geun-hye calls for implementation of previous inter-Korean deals

SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s leading presidential contender Park Geun-hye said Wednesday that previous deals with North Korea should be respected, signaling she could take a softer approach toward the communist nation if elected in the December election.

Park made the remark during a rare trip to the heavily fortified border with the North.

North Korea has routinely pressed South Korea to honor agreements reached at two previous summits in 2000 and 2007 and made Seoul’s implementation of them a key condition for better ties.

The deals have been in limbo as relations between the two Koreas have been at one of the worst levels in decades after current President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 with a harder-line approach to Pyongyang.

Park said that previous inter-Korean promises “should be kept,” as part of efforts to build confidence between the two divided countries.

Still, she said that deals reached at the 2007 summit should “win a parliamentary endorsement” before being carried out as their implementation requires a lot of money and involvement of private companies.

The first summit paved the way for the two Koreas to ease military tensions and begin economic cooperation after decades of hostilities.

In 2007, the leaders of the two Koreas also produced a deal calling for the South’s massive investment in the North’s key industrial sectors, including shipbuilding and tourism. South Korea is the No. 1 shipbuilding nation in the world.

Park’s rare trip to the border came more than an hour after North Korea announced that its young leader Kim Jong-un had been awarded the title of marshal in the latest promotion following the December death of his father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il.

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In the News – North Korea’s cult of personality surrounds Kim

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In the News – North Korea’s cult of personality surrounds Kim

The man before me is not yet 30. He stands, perhaps a little unsure of himself, a nervous tic in his shoulders seeming to betray his unease.

Before him is one of the largest armies on the planet. It is a war machine, still fighting a battle from more than half a century ago.

They move in lockstep, legs kicking and arms swinging as one, discipline and focus measured in millimeters.

A vast arsenal of weapons, missiles and tanks, pass by. The cost of this show of military might has been paid in the suffering of the people it is primed to defend. Aid groups say thousands have starved here; meanwhile, the army has grown fat.

The young man eyeing all of this is master of all he surveys. This is North Korea, and the man is Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Un named marshal of North Korean army

This was a rare glimpse indeed of a man who now rules the notorious hermit kingdom. In April this year, North Korea opened its doors to the world’s media. CNN was there to cover the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung.

The eternal president and “Great Leader” had passed power to his “Dear Leader” son, the erratic, eccentric Kim Jong Il. Now a third generation Kim, the so-called “Supreme Leader,” stood on the shoulders of his forebears.

He gained power by birthright, but the world is watching as he attempts to rule in his own right.

“He is the youngest head of state in the world,” said analyst Patrick Chovanec. “There’s still a lot of debate about how much power he has, whether other family members are in control or the military.”

Reading North Korean tea leaves

His soldiers certainly pay lip service to their loyalty.

These men are combat ready, never forgetting they have a sworn enemy in the United States.

“With the strategy of the great leader Kim Il Sung, the dear Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un with our bombs and weapons we will destroy them,” they tell me.

But beyond the war rhetoric are the realities of leading an impoverished, isolated and paranoid country.

As I stood below him at this military parade, my mind wandered to the young Kim’s thoughts. What would have been going through his mind? We’re told he was educated partly in Switzerland, loves music and western movies and is a huge basketball fan.

But the country he rules is largely sealed off from the outside world. People here mostly don’t have telephones; they never get exposure to foreign television, newspapers or films. The world is defined by endless statues, portraits and tributes to the cult of the Kims.

What Kim’s ‘mystery woman’ says about North Korea

When CNN visited Pyongyang, North Korea was putting on its most intimidating face.

But amid this display of what the regime called power and prosperity was the lone voice of the young leader.

For the first time North Koreans heard him speak.

This is why he appeared nervous.

Kim Jong Un mouthed the usual threats and warnings, but there was something different: an acknowledgment that North Korea must find a better future.

“Our fellow citizens, who are the best citizens in the world, who have overcome countless struggles and hardships, it is our party’s firmest resolve not to let our citizens go hungry again,” he said.

It was an important, if veiled, concession. Yes, North Korean people had suffered. Yes, the regime was responsible — not just for the past but a better future.

“This was really his introduction. A few years ago no one even knew he existed but they’re being told to worship him,” Chovanec said.

Our government-assigned minders escorted us around the city. They were there to make sure that what we saw and heard was strictly according to the party line.

In North Korea it is impossible to separate what is genuine and what is just for show.

In the streets of the capital, Pyongyang, we were given a glimpse of the great future Kim Jong Un was promising.

We were taken to bustling neighborhoods, saw families shopping, cars on the street.

But all of this only served to hide another harsher reality. Outside this showcase city, life was so very different.

In the bleak countryside, aid groups say people continue to starve. Defectors tell of surviving on little more than corn. Children are reportedly malnourished and have stunted growth.

All the while billions of dollars are still spent on high-tech missiles and nuclear weapons.

This is the essence of this secretive country.

Kim Jong Un may struggle to emerge from the shadows of his father and grandfather, but the gun here looms even larger. As young and green as he is, he knows this much: Without it, his rule and the regime itself will not survive.

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In the News – What’s unknowable about N. Korea

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In the News – What’s unknowable about N. Korea

By Tong Kim

As the inner group of the new North Korean leadership is inaccessible, it is impossible to know how and what decisions are made in the North. We only learn about them after they are officially announced. We struggle to understand what led to the decisions and to figure out what the meaning of them is, often without reliable evidence and only through speculative deduction.

Few people outside the leading group knew about the death of Kim Jong-il in December before it was announced. Before Pyongyang’s July 16 announcement, nobody in the South or elsewhere knew there would be a sudden dismissal of Vice Marshal Ri Young-ho as the chief of the KPA General Staff, who was designated by the late leader to solidify military support for Kim Jong un’s succession.

Nobody knew that unknown four-star General Hyon Young-chol would be promoted to vice marshal the day after to replace the powerful Ri, who was stripped of all positions “due to poor health.” We feel the futility of expensive intelligence services. Only in the wake of the announcements have some “experts” eagerly espoused a theory of a “power struggle.”

When Pyongyang announced at 11 a.m. July 18 that there would be “an important announcement” to be made at noon that day, nobody knew what it would be. President Lee Myung-bak called a special national security meeting to watch for any possible emergency development in the North. He may have been given a wrong assessment.

Following the news of a military power shakeup in Pyongyang, Lee was quoted as saying: “From various indications, we know unification is not very far. Unification indeed is nearing.” The insinuation of this statement and its timing turned out to be hollow.

In the meantime, a familiar practice of speculation began. Some believed the North might announce a further change of the power structure. Others thought it might declare a plan for a third nuclear test or other military provocations. There was also concern about the impact of the unknown announcement.

To the disappointment of those who were looking for clues leading to the unraveling of the North Korean regime, the announcement was about adding a new title of “marshal of the DPRK” to Supreme Commander Kim Jong-un, who was a general while some of his subordinates were vice marshals.

Kim holds four other titles: first chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC), first secretary of the Workers’ Party, chairman of the party’s Military Central Commission (MCC), and standing member of the five-member Politburo. Kim’s promotion to marshal was recommended concurrently by all these three commissions and the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

We still don’t know the real reason for firing Ri, who was a politburo member and the vice chairman of the MCC. But most believe it was not because of a health problem.
Ri and Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau, a member of the NDC and also vice chairman of the MCC, were regarded as two pillars of power supporting Kim’s system.

We rely almost exclusively on open sources and their analyses to understand what’s going on inside the North. We determine the power ranking of those closely associated with the leader by spotting where they stand in line for group photos and even from the order of names in the list of a state funeral committee. We observe who accompanies the leader and how often for visits to military units and other places. We follow membership and ranking of civilian and military leaders in key organizations.

Since Kim Jong-un became the leader of the North, there have been some significant changes in the power relationship between the competing agencies, shifting toward a balanced position between the party and the military. Under the military-first policy of Kim Jong-il, KPA generals were given more political and economic benefits than the civilian leaders.

Some observers are looking for positive signs revealing that North Korea is moving to reform its policy and moderate its behavior. They are inclined to believe Kim Jong-un is shifting from a military hardliner policy of confrontation to an economic policy of feeding the people. These observers make a plausible argument that with the latest development, Kim has completed the consolidation of his power base to rule in his own style, without pressure from a particular individual or group.

During the seven months Kim Jong-Un has been in power, many suspect that his leadership has been unstable because of his unproven leadership ability, young age and inexperience, lack of respect from the military establishment and the North’s chronic economic difficulties. Some of them still believe he may not last very long. But we don’t know.

North Korea specialists are like “blind men trying to assess an elephant.” As an observer, I must confess that I am also a blind man, despite having visited the North 19 times and met with North Koreans for more than a decade elsewhere in the world. I still don’t know what the North Koreans have in mind. I read writings by other blind men mostly for amusement and to stir my imagination.

From a historic perspective, North Korea was always part of a dynasty ― except for the 36 years of Japanese rule. The people survived several cycles of “seven years of famine,” fought back massive invasions by the Mongols and the Japanese and overcame a fratricidal war. The North is not likely to collapse soon. What’s your take?

The writer is a research professor of the Ilmin Institute of International Relations at Korea University and a visiting professor at the University of North Korean Studies. Reach him at tong.kim8@yahoo.com.

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In the News – N.Korean Army Chief ‘Refused to Go Quietly’

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In the News – N.Korean Army Chief ‘Refused to Go Quietly’

A gunbattle broke out when the North Korean regime removed army chief Ri Yong-ho from office, leaving 20 to 30 soldiers dead, according to unconfirmed intelligence reports. Some intelligence analysts believe Ri, who has not been seen since his abrupt sacking earlier this week, was injured or killed in the confrontation.

According to government officials here, the gunbattle erupted when Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the People’s Army General Political Bureau, tried to detain Ri in the process of carrying out leader Kim Jong-un’s order to sack him. Guards protecting Ri, who is a vice marshal, apparently opened fire. “We cannot rule out the possibility that Ri was injured or even killed in the firefight,” said one source.

Choe is believed to be the right-hand man of Jang Song-taek, the uncle and patron of the young North Korean leader. He made his career in the Workers Party rather than the army. After being appointed director of the bureau, Choe repeatedly clashed with Ri, who came up as a field commander, prompting Choe to keep Ri under close watch and apparently triggering an internal probe targeting the army chief.

The military had grown tremendously in power under former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s “songun” or military-first doctrine, and military heavyweights like Ri who grew in stature during this period were considered threats to the young North Korean leader.

“The firefight has still not been 100 percent confirmed,” said a government official here. “It may take some time for us to gain a clearer picture of what happened.”

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In the News – S. Korea says it’s too early to judge N. Korean leader’s intention

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In the News – S. Korea says it’s too early to judge N. Korean leader’s intention

(ATTN: UPDATES with PM’s comments on military pact with Japan at last 5 paras)
SEOUL, July 19 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s prime minister said Thursday it is too early to judge whether North Korea will move toward reform and openness, despite Pyongyang’s recent embrace of American cultural icons.

North Korea’s state media showed Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh taking the stage during a concert for new leader Kim Jong-un earlier this month, a rare move by the isolated nation that has tried to keep a tight lid on American culture.

Performers danced while clips of Disney movies such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White” and “Dumbo” played on a paneled backdrop for the show in Pyongyang.

Kim has also made a spate of inspection tours that are closely related to his people’s livelihoods in recent months, including an amusement park, a zoo and shops.

Yoo Ki-june, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, said Kim’s moves could be a message to the United States and China that he is interested in embracing reform and openness.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said the North’s new leader has displayed moves unseen in the North in the past.

“Still, it’s too early to judge whether there will be a substantial change and whether (North Korea) will move toward reform and openness,” Kim said in a parliamentary session.

Kim said South Korea is making efforts to ensure the North abandons its nuclear weapons program and moves toward reform and openness. Kim also said China and the international community could play a role in nudging North Korea toward such openness.

Last year, Kim Jong-il, the late father of the current leader, toured major economic facilities in China, triggering speculation that the senior Kim was interested in following in Chinese footsteps.

China has been trying to coax its impoverished ally to embrace reforms similar to those that lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and helped Beijing become the world’s second-largest economy.

North Korea ruled out any policy changes following the December death of long-time leader Kim Jong-il.

Separately, Prime Minister Kim also said that a controversial military pact with Japan should not be repealed despite public criticism for cooperating with the former colonial ruler.

The South Korean Cabinet approved the pact behind closed doors, drawing public anger and harsh bipartisan opposition from the National Assembly. The resistance eventually forced the government to delay the signing of the deal with Tokyo at the last minute.

“If we inform people of the precise content of the military pact, they will think it is helpful and necessary for the national interest,” Kim said, while saying “No” to a demand by an opposition lawmaker that the government scrap the accord.

Earlier Kim and Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan offered an apology for not informing the National Assembly of the agreement, but the main opposition Democratic United Party called for the dismissal of the prime minister over the government’s mishandling of the agreement.

“I’m not clinging to my post but I think it’s not appropriate for a prime minister or foreign minister to step down at this moment,” Prime Minister Kim said.

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In the News – North Korea names Kim Jong Eun ‘marshal’ of the military

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In the News – North Korea names Kim Jong Eun ‘marshal’ of the military

 

BEIJING — North Korea on Wednesday named its young leader, Kim Jong Eun, “marshal” of the military, a preeminent job title that analysts say is designed to reinforce his absolute power and warn off members of senior elites who might question it.

The title appears redundant, because Kim already served as the military’s supreme commander. But the timing of the announcement is significant, outside experts say, coming just two days after the North dismissed a top army leader — perceived hard-liner Ri Yong Ho — and perhaps doubling as a message about Kim’s willingness to shape the 1.2 million-strong military as he sees fit.

What Kim will do with the military remains a fiercely debated question in Seoul and Washington. The issue also holds deep implications for an impoverished country of 24 million that channels its scant resources toward weapons and nuclear technology.

In power for seven months now, Kim has given no clear sign that he will de-emphasize the military or push for the economic reforms that his father and grandfather long resisted. But some experts see a pattern emerging as Kim shuffles the military leadership: He sidelines hard-liners and replaces them with Workers’ Party bureaucrats — precisely the group that had been marginalized under the military-first policy of his father, Kim Jong Il.

“It’s clear there is an internal conflict between the royal family and the military,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea analyst at Seoul’s Kookmin University. He said Kim Jong Eun, joined by his powerful aunt and uncle, has aligned himself with top Workers’ Party members and is “dressing them up in military uniforms.”

Still, Lankov and others cautioned that the changes might not indicate an actual policy shift.

“We tend to believe the military might be hard-liners and party members are technocrats,” Lankov said. “That might indicate a more relaxed policy line, but it’s too early to say. Because people usually fight not over ideas — they fight over yachts and nice houses.”

Since Kim Jong Il’s death in December, North Korea has offered the outside world conflicting evidence that a shift is underway.

The government infuriated its neighbors by launching a rocket, but it also admitted to its own people, in a rare moment of transparency, that the launch had proved a dud. Kim Jong Eun gave two public speeches — something his reclusive father never did — but used them mostly to recite familiar slogans about military power. New apartments are rising in Pyongyang, but recent visitors to the country speak of 19th-century conditions in the vast rural areas — mostly barren land, where oxen are the primary mode of transport.

The picture of Kim’s intentions could become clearer in coming months, analysts say, now that he has his own team of leaders in place. The surprising dismissal of Ri on Monday was attributed to “illness” by the North’s state media, but outside experts interpreted the move as a firing. By booting a senior official whom his father had appointed to oversee the hereditary power transfer, Kim Jong Eun “kicked off the training wheels,” Scott Snyder, of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a blog post.

“I see the dismissal of Ri as the last step of a military shuffle,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul. “There is a possibility that Ri had resisted the party’s control over the military.”

Some of the most notable shuffling happened in April at a major national conference. Aside from Kim, who was given a handful of the supreme titles held by his father and grandfather, the clear winner was Choe Ryong Hae, a mid-level bureaucrat who emerged with across-the-board power that brought him into the Kim family’s inner circle.

Choe was also named a vice marshal in the military, unprecedented for a civilian in the ­military-first era, according to Luke Herman, a North Korea leadership expert.

Even before Wednesday’s announcement, there was little reason to doubt Kim’s No. 1 position in military, analysts say. But he officially still held the rank of general, which technically left him below a handful of “vice marshals,” including Ri.

“The whole issue just shows that although Kim Jong Eun is very young, he is eager to prove that he is no longer the puppet controlled by some senior minister reigning behind the curtain,” said Zhu Feng, of Peking University’s School of International Studies. “He’s able to establish his absolute authority in the system and has capacity to govern the country directly.”

Only Kim’s father and grandfather have held military ranks higher than marshal. Founder Kim Il Sung was named generalissimo in 1992, and Kim Jong Il was awarded the title posthumously.

 

Original Article 

In the News – North Korean Shift Is Called Power Play

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In the News – North Korean Shift Is Called Power Play

By EVAN RAMSTAD

Outside analysts called Monday’s removal of the North Korean general closest to Kim Jong Eun the first major power play of the dictator’s young regime, countering earlier media reports from Pyongyang that the official’s ill health had sparked the move.

Early Tuesday, the official Korean Central News Agency reported that Hyon Yong Chol was named a vice marshal of the Korean People’s Army, one of the posts 69-year-old Ri Yong Ho had held.

The change in military chiefs—from a powerful figure known close to Mr. Kim’s father Kim Jong Il to a little-known, though decorated, officer—appears to be a sign that Mr. Kim is exerting more control of the military via his regime’s political party, said political analysts, professors and other North Korea watchers.

The change is the most significant in the North Korean hierarchy since Mr. Kim took power after his father’s death in December.

In another move that now also looks like an attempt to corral the military, Mr. Kim three months ago gave a senior political figure, Choe Ryong Hae, a position on the National Defense Committee, the most powerful organ in the North’s government, and a vice marshal title.

image

Associated Press Mr. Kim, right, with Mr. Ri, left, and military official Choe Ryong Hae.

In a country where all economic decisions derive from a policy known as “songun,” which means “military first,” the appearance that the military’s power is being diminished raises the prospect, though seemingly small at the moment, for significant change.

“Up to now, the military has been the major obstacle to any bold moves in North Korea,” said Moon Chung-in, a South Korean political scientist and engagement advocate who attended the South’s two summit meetings with the North in 2000 and 2007.

The State Department on Monday played down the significance of personnel changes in North Korea and aired skepticism that any major policy changes were under way.

“Changes in personnel absent a fundamental change in direction mean little,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

Still, a number of former U.S. officials who have tracked Kim Jong Eun said they are detecting some potentially profound shifts in North Korea, even if they are skeptical that a cultural revolution is embracing the country.

At the very least, these former officials said, Mr. Kim is further consolidating power and displaying less paranoia than his father did. More optimistic analysts said they believe he could end up surprising the West with his willingness to engage and initiate some overhauls.

China, North Korea’s economic benefactor and closest political ally, has made no comment on the shake-up and its state media have carried bare-bones accounts about it.

The North’s news agency announced Mr. Ri’s fall from power early Monday with only a three-word elaboration—”for his illness.” But analysts pointed to a sizable amount of evidence that Mr. Ri, who was close to the Kim family and perceived to have had a brother-like relationship with the late Kim Jong Il, had been purged from power.

Among that evidence, Mr. Ri has appeared healthy in recent photos and attended an official event with Mr. Kim last week. In addition, North Korea’s elder statesmen and elite tend to hold their titles until death, with aides taking their duties if bad health incapacitates them.

In addition, the North’s Politburo, which approved the removal of titles, met on Sunday, which is rare. And the absence of elaboration or praise of Mr. Ri’s 52-year military career by the North’s media is considered an embarrassment, or loss of face, in Korean tradition.

The new military leader, Mr. Hyon, was appointed a general of the Korean People’s Army in late September 2010 at the same time as Kim Jong Eun and Kim Jong Il’s sister, Kim Kyoung Hui, and three others. Of the six who were appointed then, he was one of two with a military background.

Mr. Hyon that day also joined the Workers’ Party central committee, a group of around 100 people, along with Mr. Kim. In North Korea’s system, the appointment of a military person to a high-level political post is typically a sign of bigger things to come.

After the elder Mr. Kim’s death in December, Mr. Hyon was also appointed a member of the roughly 300-person funeral committee. In the list of members, seen by some analysts as an unofficial ranking of power, he was mentioned around 80th. The younger Mr. Kim was mentioned first and Mr. Ri was mentioned fourth.

Mr. Hyon is relatively little known to outsiders and has rarely been mentioned in the North’s official state media. He first appeared in North Korea’s media in February 2007, when a report described how an army unit he led was awarded the “Order of Kim Il Sung,” one of the highest honors in the North’s military in January 2007. The report didn’t say why Mr. Hyon’s unit won the award.

Since Mr. Kim’s death, the transition of power in North Korea has appeared smooth to the outside world, though the new regime has had little interaction with foreigners and limits information.

It angered several nations in April by firing a long-range missile, in what it said was an attempt to launch a satellite into space. The rocket failed shortly after liftoff.

Mr. Kim, since shortly after the mourning period for his father, has worked to create an image that is like that of his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. He has given two long speeches in public, something his father never did as North Korea’s leader, and, like his voluble grandfather, is often photographed shaking hands, clasping arms and even hugging people.

At the same time, Mr. Kim has taken steps to solidify his grip on power and to appear fully in control, compensating in the view of some analysts for his young age, believed to be 28 or 29. Over the past two weeks, Mr. Kim has been photographed at three events in the company of a young woman who hasn’t been identified by the North’s media. That has fueled speculation that Mr. Kim has married or is depicting himself that way to appear older with a stable life.

“This is the process of building Kim Jong Eun’s system,” said Kim Young-hyun, North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul. With the departure of Mr. Ri, “They got rid of a person who has a strong image in the military.”

Until Monday’s announcement, Mr. Ri had been considered one of three people—along with the elder Mr. Kim’s sister and her husband—outsiders view as protecting the younger Mr. Kim from potential challengers.

Immediately after the announcement, the North’s news agency released a story describing a letter Mr. Kim wrote to a unit of the military’s internal-security forces expressing thanks for its role in multiple construction projects. The Korean-language version of the report carried the letter itself, ending with Mr. Kim’s name and his title as supreme commander of the North Korean military.

“Mr. Ri’s control over the army has been considered weak,” said Lee Jong-won, professor at Waseda University in Tokyo. “His abrupt removal may indicate there was some problem in his handling of the military under the new regime.”

Mr. Ri’s influence became clear to outside analysts in 2003, when he was given several political titles and appointed commanding officer of the Pyongyang Defense Command, which is responsible for the defense of the North Korean capital and, just as importantly from a power standpoint, the Kim family. He picked up several other political titles in 2007 and 2009.

At the end of an October 2010 leadership conference where the younger Mr. Kim was first introduced to the North Korean public and the world, Mr. Ri sat between the two Kims in a photograph of the participants in the event. A few days later, he was the highest-ranking person to speak to a crowd of tens of thousands at a military parade in downtown Pyongyang that the two Kims attended.

Mr. Ri was born in October 1942 and was about 18 months younger than Kim Jong Il. The two were childhood friends, according to some biographical accounts. Mr. Ri’s father was a military colleague of Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, and the two grew up around each other. Mr. Ri walked alongside Mr. Kim’s funeral hearse.

 

 

Original Article 

In the News – N. Korea’s military chief Ri Yong-ho relieved of all posts

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In the News – N. Korea’s military chief Ri Yong-ho relieved of all posts

SEOUL, July 16 (Yonhap) — North Korea said Monday that its military chief Ri Yong-ho, known as one of the closest confidants of leader Kim Jong-un, has been removed from all his posts because of his “illness.”

“A meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party decided to relieve Ri Yong-ho of all his posts for his illness,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch from Pyongyang.
The media said Lee was dismissed in the party’s Sunday meeting as a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the party and a vice-chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission.

But the KCNA did not elaborate on whether Ri also lost his position as the army’s chief of the General Staff or whether a successor has been selected for the outgoing official.

The 70-year-old Ri, who rose to the ranking positions in the Kim Jong-un regime, was previously known as a key figure who helped Kim seize control of the military following the death of his father and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last December.

Ri is believed to have been one of the most influential military figures in the communist country, having risen from obscurity as Kim Jong-un started to be groomed to become the leader around 2009.

He became the North Korean army’s vice marshal and the vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2010, one year after he took the position of the army’s chief of General Staff.

He was one of eight top officials, including Kim and Kim’s uncle Jang Song-thaek, who escorted the funeral coach of Kim Jong-il last December.

Ri has often appeared next to the new leader during the young leader’s military inspection visits and other official occasions.

While the dismissal heralds a major change in the North’s military power structure, some analysts pointed out the removal could be politically motivated rather than a result of Ri’s illness.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that the army chief of the General Staff Ri Yong-ho was dismissed on account of Kim Jong-un’s unsatisfactory military grip or as a result of a power struggle in North Korea,” said Chang Yong-suk, an analyst at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

Ri Yong-ho, the army chief of the General Staff (L), talks to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap)

Military Service and Support for Unification

South Korean marines train at Baengnyeong Island near the North Korean border. Photo credit Seo Myeong-gon / Yonhap / AP.

South Korea is a little bit smaller than Kentucky, yet it has the sixth-largest standing military in the world. There is only one country that is remotely similar in size with a comparable military: North Korea.

Because the war between North and South Korea is technically still ongoing, military service in both Koreas is compulsory, though only for men. In the South, all men must serve for two years. In the North, it’s ten years. We know instinctively that the North Korean military is drastically different from the U.S.’s, just as almost everything about North Korean society is drastically different from ours. The compulsory service in the South, though, also makes the South Korean military quite different from what we’re used to here, and it affects not only the military itself but also society at large in interesting ways. Continue reading

In the News – S. Korea, Japan set to sign military pact Friday: official

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In the News – S. Korea, Japan set to sign military pact Friday: official

SEOUL, June 28 (Yonhap) — South Korea is set to sign a military pact with Japan on Friday, marking the first military agreement between the two historical rivals, a senior Seoul official said Thursday, despite lingering bitterness over Tokyo’s colonial atrocities.

Japan notified South Korea that its Cabinet would approve the pact Friday and the signing will be made in Tokyo immediately after the endorsement, the foreign ministry official said. South Korea’s Cabinet already approved the pact on Tuesday.

The pact, named the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), allows Seoul and Tokyo to exchange delicate military intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as well as information about China, Seoul officials said earlier.

“If things go as planned, the two nations will sign the pact on Friday,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said he could not confirm the notification from Japan, but conceded the deal could be signed on Friday.

“I think signing of the pact will be possible tomorrow afternoon if there is no particular problem,” Cho told reporters during a press briefing.

Cho denied media speculation that South Korea was prodded to sign the agreement by the United States, which has urged Seoul and Tokyo, its two closet Asian allies, to strengthen military ties amid growing hostility from North Korea and the rise of China.

However, the spokesman stressed the need to increase three-way military cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.

“Many people would agree in principle that Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation is important in terms of our security, but it is not the truth that the pact has been hastily pushed,” Cho said.

About 28,500 U.S. troops, mostly ground soldiers, are stationed in South Korea and more than 35,000 U.S. troops, mainly consisting of navy, air force and marines, are stationed in Japan.

Ministry officials said the U.S. forces in Japan would become a rear guard for the U.S. forces in South Korea in case of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula.

Officials said the pact with Japan is taking aim at the rise of China, allowing Seoul and Tokyo to share sensitive military information about Beijing.

Since early 2011, Seoul and Tokyo have been in talks to forge two military pacts, the GSOMIA and an accord on military logistics called the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

Seoul decided to shelve the ACSA, which could allow Japanese troops to enter South Korean territory, because of its sensitivity.

However, the official hinted at going ahead with the military logistic pact with Japan.

“Talks on the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement have been shelved because more time is needed for further consultations,” the official said.

South Korea’s ambassador to Japan, Shin Kak-soo, and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba are likely to sign the military intelligence pact in Tokyo on Friday, according to the official.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin had planned to visit Japan last month to sign the GSOMIA but put the visit on hold due to some territorial and other unresolved issues that have arisen from their shared past. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45.

Military cooperation is one sensitive area that needs to be addressed in Seoul-Tokyo relations, but the two nations have lately agreed on the need to expand cooperation in the defense sector in the face of increasing military threats from North Korea, especially after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Many Koreans still harbor deep resentment toward Japan because of its brutal colonial rule. A series of disputes over history and territorial issues stemming from the colonial rule have plagued relations between the two countries for decades, though they are key trading partners for each other.

A North Korean propaganda media outlet criticized the South Korean government for moving to sign the pact with Japan, calling it an “unpatriotic act.”

The article posted on Thursday on the Uriminzokkiri (Among our People) Web site run by North Korea claimed that, “There is an urgent reason for South Korea to sign a military pact with Japan. That is the pressure from the United States.”

The article also described the pact between South Korea and Japan as a “confrontation and cooperation agreement” against North Korea.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Pyongyang denounces U.S. for firing at N. Korean flag

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In the News – Pyongyang denounces U.S. for firing at N. Korean flag

SEOUL, June 25 (Yonhap) — North Korea vowed Monday to further strengthen its nuclear deterrent to cope with what it called U.S. hostile policy, leveling criticism at the latest South Korea-U.S. joint military drill.

The latest rhetoric came after North Korea’s flag was fired upon during a South Korea-U.S. joint live-fire drill near the border with the North on Friday. The communist nation, which conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, has made similar threats in recent years.

“It is an extremely grave military action and politically-motivated provocation to fire live bullets and shells at the flag of a sovereign state without a declaration of war,” the North’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said in an English-language statement carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The unidentified spokesman also claimed the “reckless act” by the U.S. was the most vivid expression of its hostile policy toward the North.

North Korea “will further bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense as long as the U.S. … persists in its hostile policy towards” Pyongyang, the spokesman said in the statement.

North Korea has long used the term, “nuclear deterrent,” to refer to its nuclear arsenal.

The North frequently accuses the United States of hostility toward Pyongyang and plotting with South Korea to invade North Korea.

In March, U.S. President Barack Obama said during a trip to Seoul that Washington has no hostile intent toward North Korea and is prepared to improve relations between the two.

The North’s latest threat comes on the 62nd anniversary of the start of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter North Korea’s possible aggression.

entropy@yna.co.kr
(END)

 

Original article can be found here.

Kim Jong Un’s First Speech Exalts Military, Unification

Kim Jong Un speaks at a military parade in Pyongyang celebrating the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth on April 15th, 2012, as seen from space. Photo credit Digital Globe, Inc. via MSNBC.

As far as we know, Kim Jong Il, late president of North Korea, spoke publicly one time only during his thirty years in the limelight of his country’s ruling party. When he did, it was a single line. His father, Kim Il Sung, had given a speech during celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the North Korean People’s Army’s establishment; after the speech, the younger Kim stepped to the microphone and voiced his only public sentiment: “Glory to the heroic soldiers of the Korean people’s army!” (see it in this video).

That was in 1992. The Western media heard his voice a few more times; for instance, in this video from 2007. Still, he gave no more speeches that his own country would hear.

Kim Jong Un gave his first public speech on April 15th, during the 100th-anniversary celebrations of his grandfather’s birth. It is the nation’s most important holiday. The younger Kim’s speech was extensive—20 minutes long—and stands in sharp contrast to his father’s reclusiveness.

Yet the content of the speech matches the sentiment shared by his father’s single line almost perfectly. Continue reading

In the News – N. Korea says it targets S. Korean media for possible attack

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In the News – N. Korea says it targets S. Korean media for possible attack

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) — North Korea said Monday its military has entered map coordinates of some conservative South Korean media offices as it threatened to strike their headquarters for their alleged insult to North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un.

The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said the country’s troops have been targeting the Seoul headquarters of the Chosun Ilbo at coordinates of 37 degrees 56 minutes 83 seconds North latitude and 126 degrees 97 minutes 65 seconds East longitude. It also revealed the coordinates of the JoongAng Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo newspapers, as well as the KBS, MBC and SBS television stations and CBS radio.

It is the first time the North has released coordinates of intended targets in South Korea.

“We would like to ask the Lee group if it wants to leave all this to be struck by the (North) or opt for apologizing and putting the situation under control, though belatedly,” the General Staff said in an English-language ultimatum, referring to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Seoul, the South Korean capital city of more than 10 million people and home to South Korean media headquarters, is within range of North Korea’s artillery and rockets.

“If the Lee group recklessly challenges our army’s eruption of resentment, it will retaliate against it with a merciless sacred war of its own style as it has already declared,” the General Staff said in the ultimatum carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

It also warned the North is “fully ready for everything” and “time is running out.”

South Korea defended its media reports on its communist neighbor, saying freedom of the press is a basic right guaranteed in free and democratic countries around the world.

The South Korean government said in a statement it “will maintain a posture to immediately cope with any North Korean provocation.” A South Korean military official said no particular movements in the North Korean military have been observed.

Also Monday, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk urged the North to immediately stop threatening the South’s media outlets. He said the North’s threat was a grave “provocation” against South Korea’s free and democratic system.

There is no freedom of the press in North Korea where authorities use state media as a propaganda tool to strengthen personality cults of the country’s leaders.

The North’s latest threat was in response to some South Korean media reports critical of the North’s celebration of the Korean Children’s Union (KCU) under way in Pyongyang.

About 20,000 North Korean children pledged their allegiance to Kim as the North began a six-day festival on Sunday to mark the 66th anniversary of the KCU, according to Pyongyang’s state media.

Some South Korean media dismissed the celebration as part of the North’s attempt to win support for Kim, who took over the country following the December death of his father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il.

Channel A, a television arm of the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper, likened Kim to the late German dictator Adolf Hitler over the anniversary celebration.

The North has long bristled at any outside criticism of its leader and has made similar threats against the South over the past several months, although no actual attack has occurred.

South Korea has repeatedly vowed to avenge any North Korean attacks following two attacks by the North in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans, mostly soldiers.

 

Original article can be found here

In the News – Kiwi charged with spying for North Korea

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In the News – Kiwi charged with spying for North Korea

A NATURALISED New Zealander has been arrested in South Korea on suspicion of spying for North Korea after secretly being filmed meeting with an agent from that country.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported a 56-year-old man and a 74-year-old man were arrested in early May on charges of collecting military intelligence for North Korea.

The Chosun Ilbo, one of South Korea’s largest newspapers, reported that one of these men known only as “Kim” is a Korean-born New Zealand citizen. The other man is known as “Lee”.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman confirmed a New Zealander has been arrested in South Korea and that consular assistance has been offered to the man.

A police statement issued to Yonhap said the two men had been arrested for allegedly taking instruction from a North Korean agent while in the Chinese city of Dandong, along the North Korean border, in July last year.

Police say they have footage of the pair meeting with the agent and a statement from “Kim” saying he had received an order from North Korea, Chosun Ilbo reported.

It’s also alleged one of the men passed equipment capable of disturbing Global Positioning System (GPS) signals and intelligence on high-tech military equipment to the other accused.

It was not immediately clear whether the equipment and information was passed to the North Korean agent, Yonhap reported.

The 74-year-old was reportedly sentenced to life in prison on a separate espionage charge in 1972, though he was released on parole in 1990.

Still, he retains his allegiance to North Korea, according to the police statement issued to Yonhap.

The arrest of the alleged spies coincided with North Korea’s jamming of GPS signals, a satellite-based navigation system widely used by planes, ships and the military as well as in vehicles.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – N.Korea’s Nuclear Obsession Is Self-Defeating

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In the News – N.Korea’s Nuclear Obsession Is Self-Defeating

North Korea revised its constitution to state that the accomplishments of former leader Kim Jong-il turned it into a “nuclear power and invincible military superpower.” There is no other country in the world that identifies itself as a nuclear-armed state in its constitution.

A closer look shows that the North Korean constitution is a joke. A country’s constitution sets out the rules for government and guarantees the basic rights of its people. But the North Korean constitution stipulates in its preface that it is a means of legitimizing the ideology of nation founder Kim Il-sung. It therefore represents neither the country nor its people but is merely a tool to support the power of its dictator. The revision merely changes some references to include his son Kim Jong-il.

It hails Kim Il-sung as the great state founder, progenitor of socialism in the country and eternal creator of the regime’s “juche” ideology of self-reliance. It now also exaggerates the accomplishments of Kim Jong-il.

Nothing will change simply because North Korea claims in its constitution to have nuclear weapons. The North has been making that claim since its first nuclear test in 2006. By doing this, it simply admits that it violated an inter-Korean agreement reached in 1990 to  denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, as well as the joint statement signed on Sept. 19, 2005 where it agreed to scrap its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has habitually scrapped any concession it made and raised new demands while pretending to seek progress in nuclear disarmament talks, sending the whole process back to square one. This has resulted in a complete loss of trust and in isolation from the international community. But Pyongyang is flaunting its nuclear program as it was some sort of major accomplishment when it is the overriding cause of all its problems. New leader Kim Jong-un may believe this is necessary to consolidate his grip on power, but the people of the North will soon find out how absurd that strategy is.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Controversy Follows Comments on Military Operations in N.Korea

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In the News – Controversy Follows Comments on Military Operations in N.Korea

Earlier this week, a U.S. Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley stirred controversy this week with comments about American and South Korean military operations in North Korea. On Wednesday, General Tolley said he had been unclear in his comments about possible U.S. operations, and said that “at no time have we sent special operations forces into North Korea.”

There are concerns about the ramifications of what the leader of the U.S. special operations command in South Korea said at a panel discussion in Tampa, Florida, on May 22.

Brigadier General Neil Tolley, to an audience of hundreds of people at the Special Operations Forces Industry conference, discussed the challenges the United States faces determining what is inside North Korea’s many secret tunnels.

Freelance combat reporter and technology writer David Axe was among those listening to the general.

“He was describing the utility of human intelligence on the ground in North Korea. He was describing it as though it were actually happening right now,” said Axe. “He since has walked that back to say that he was speaking hypothetically, although he didn’t say at the time he was speaking hypothetically.” Continue reading

In the News – U.S. Denies Sending Commandos to Spy in N.Korea

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In the News – U.S. Denies Sending Commandos to Spy in N.Korea

U.S. military officials are rejecting a report that U.S. military commandos have been parachuting into North Korea to gather intelligence on Pyongyang’s underground military installations.

The Tokyo-based political journal The Diplomat carried a report on Monday alleging that a senior U.S. special operations commander revealed the purported commando program at a conference in Florida last week.

U.S. Defense Department press secretary George Little told reporters Tuesday that the report misquoted Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley.

“My understanding is that the general’s comments were contorted, distorted, misreported, and that, you know, there is in no way any substance to the assertion. Again, that was misreported that there are U.S. boots on the ground in North Korea. That is simply incorrect.”

Little said the United States works closely and on a daily basis with its allies in the region to develop information on North Korean intentions and capabilities.

Colonel Jonathan Withington, a spokesperson for the United States Forces Korea, said Tuesday that “great liberal license” was made with Tolley’s comments, and that some of the quotes were “made up and attributed to him.”

The Diplomat quoted Tolley as saying that U.S. and South Korean commandos were taking part in the reconnaissance mission, which it said is aimed at uncovering information on “thousands of tunnels” built by Pyongyang since the Korean War.

Withington said it is well-known that North Korea uses tunnels to hide its sensitive military operations. But he said “at no time” have U.S. or South Korean forces parachuted into North Korea to conduct special reconnaissance.

The author of the report in The Diplomat, David Axe, rejected suggestions that he fabricated the quotes attributed to the general. He said that if the general was speaking hypothetically, “he did not say so” and that “he spoke in the present tense” and “at length.”

 

Original article can be found here.