Kim Yong Chol’s transfer to United Front Department complete

Following South Korean media reports that
North Korea’s General Reconnaissance Bureau Chief Kim Yong Chol has been tapped
to fill a vacant post dealing with inter-Korean relations, Daily NK has learned
from a source within the North that Kim has been transferred to this position
although not officially appointed. This news strongly indicates that Kim, who has a more hawkish view toward the
South, will imminently be appointed as director of the Central Party’s United Front

“Kim Yong Chol, who until not so long ago was
heading the reconnaissance bureau, has suddenly been transferred to the Party’s
United Front Department,” the source from South Pyongan Province told Daily NK
in a telephone conversation on Monday. “After (the former director) Kim Yang
Gon’s sudden death, Kim Yong Chol took over his work, and although it hasn’t
been confirmed yet, he is effectively acting as the department director.”

This news was corroborated by an additional
source in the same province.

Kim Yong Chol has never worked in the
Central Party and is a military official “to the core,”but has been involved in
inter-Korean relations ever since he led the North Korean delegation for
high-level cross-border talks (back in 2004), according to the source.

“I think the General (Kim Jong Un) likely
took note of this some 10 years of experience in operations regarding the South
plus his background in inter-Korean talks when considering him as Kim Yang
Gong’s successor,” he added.

An analyst from a state-run think tank, who
asked not to be named, said it is “not usual” to have someone with a military
background lead South Korea-related operations within the Party, but there has
been precedent in the 1960s. “Based on the fact that Kim Yong Chol led
negotiations with the South in the past, working in this department would not
go against common sense,” the expert noted.

In terms of what to make of the regime
seating a hardliner like Kim, who has in the past led provocations against the
South, in the United Front Department, the analyst said, “Kim Yong Chol is one
of the leading hardliners against the South, so his transfer to that department
in essence is a forewarning of hawkish policies.”

He added, “Also since it claims to have
succeeded in testing a thermonuclear weapon, the North may try to get the upper
hand in inter-Korean relations by threatening Seoul with the deployment of a
hydrogen bomb.”

Regarding to the reconnaissance chief post
left vacant due to Kim’s transfer, the source in South Pyongan Province
reported that although it remains empty “it is likely that an expert in South
Korean affairs will soon be appointed.”

“The reconnaissance chief position is much
more important than regular military positions, so a young and bright cadre
from within the reconnaissance bureau will likely be tapped to fill the role,” he asserted.

There are six sub bureaus within the
General Reconnaissance Bureau, including one on strategic planning,
reconnaissance, and several on hacking and technology. Daily NK’s source
speculated Kim Jong Un is likely to appoint one of the six sub-bureau directors
that is the youngest and has the most experience in South Korea operations to
assist him at all times.