Reshuffle not likely sign of punishment for landmine incident

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 Korea’s fault. This is why rather than purging them
they’ve 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 they’ve 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 North’s 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 Korea’s “sovereignty and fundamental interests,” declaring
that they “can never be bartered for anything and dialogue and peaceful
climate contrary to them are meaningless.”

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