Reshuffle not likely sign of punishment for landmine incident

Kim Ga Young, intern  |  2015-09-01 15:56

According to a recent Korean Central News Agency report, the latest enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission [CMC] of the Workers' Party of Korea saw a reshuffle but particulars on the development were not disclosed. 

The report, released on Friday, stated that the meeting dismissed some members of the Central Military Commission and appointed new ones and dealt with an organizational matter. However, no elaboration on the reasoning behind these changes followed. 

This has triggered speculation among North Korea watchers and pundits that the reshuffle was carried out as a measure to penalize those accountable for planting landmines on the southern side of the DMZ earlier this month, maiming two South Korean soldiers and sparking heightened tensions between the two Koreas. Many find the absence of both Ri Yong Kil, chief of the Korean People's Army General Staff, and Kim Yong Chol, chief of the Bureau of Reconnaissance, in state media since August 20th particularly conspicuous. 

Conversely, many find this theory to hold little weight. Punishment, they say, would in effect be the North Korean government taking on full responsibility for the landmine incident, rather than ambiguous expressions of regret. 

Jeon Hyun Joon, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification [KINU], said, I think the commanding officers or relevant officials involved with the landmine incident would have been punished to some degree. But officially penalizing them would be tantamount to once more conceding North Koreas fault. This is why rather than purging them theyve most likely just been demoted or put on probation. 

Lee Soo Seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, shared this perspective, noting, Pyongyang has been praising itself for heading up the recent inter-Korean accord. Penalizing corresponding commanders or officials so close on the heels of the dialogue would be synonymous with an admission of responsibility for the explosion. 

He added, Ri Yong Kil and Kim Yong Chol have not appeared in the media for a bit more than a week. This is way too early to determine whether or not theyve been purged. I think we can assume that there has been a change within the North Korean regime if Kim and Lee do not appear for more than three weeks. 

Meanwhile, according to North Korea's coverage of the meeting, Kim Jong Un emphasized the Norths focal role in bringing about the resolution, having proposed the north-south high-level urgent contact on its own initiative and put under control the situation which inched close to an armed conflict, thereby clearing the dark clouds of war that hung over the Korean nation and defended peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the region. 

He followed by adding that the recent inter-Korean accord provided a crucial landmark occasion of defusing the acute military tension and putting the catastrophic inter-Korean relations on the track of reconciliation and trust. 

However, the report concluded by underscoring North Koreas sovereignty and fundamental interests, declaring that they can never be bartered for anything and dialogue and peaceful climate contrary to them are meaningless.

*Translated by Jihae Lee

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