Former Minister of the People’s Armed Forces No Kwang Chol was recently appointed commander of I Army Corps, an elite unit based on North Korea’s “front line” along the 38th Parallel, Daily NK has learned.
Last year, No stepped down as head of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces (MPAF) following the 5th Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
No was appointed as I Army Corps commander earlier this year and was reportedly tasked with “establishing military discipline under the monolithic leadership of Kim Jong Un and investigating military activities,” Daily NK sources said.
I Army Corps is stationed in Kangwon Province and is North Korea’s easternmost military unit on the 38th Parallel.
The unit is considered an elite part of the military because of its level of mobility relative to other front line units. A military base operated by I Army Corps is located near Wonsan, where North Korea recently launched projectiles over the sea, and its headquarters are in Kangwon Province’s Hoeyang County.
Since December 2019, I Army Corps has been at the center of several corruption scandals, however, including frequent thefts of military supplies. Soldiers in the corps are also suffering from malnutrition.
No was likely given command of I Army Corps to whip the unit back into shape, sources said.
“His appointment to the front line I Army Corps suggests that Kim Jong Un places a lot of trust in him,” one source added.
After Kim Jong Gwan’s appointment as the new head of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces – the third most senior military position in the country – observers had wondered, however, whether No had fallen out of favor with Kim Jong Un.
Daily NK sources argued that this was not the case.
“No’s new appointment is not considered a demotion because there’s really only a half-rank difference between the minister of the people’s armed forces and the commander of I Corps,” one source explained.
Daily NK reported in January (in Korean) about rumors surrounding No’s removal as minister of the people’s armed forces. A source had told Daily NK at the time that No was regarded as “[still] young, loyal and boasting a clean record.”
Front line commanders generally do not remain in their posts for more than three years. Daily NK sources speculated that No’s tenure at I Army Corps will follow this precedent and not exceed three years.
A STERLING RECORD
Reportedly born in 1956, No started his military career in North Korea’s field army corps. North Korean media reported that he was appointed vice director of the general staff division of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in December 2012, the year Kim Jong Un ascended to power. In July 2015 he was appointed first vice minister at MPAF.
At the 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in May 2016, No was elected a candidate member of the WPK’s Politburo. He then served as the chairman of the Second Economic Committee and, in 2018, he replaced Pak Yong Sik as head of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces.
No accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Singapore for the US-North Korean summit on June 12, 2018. At the September 2018 inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, No was also a signatory on the Sep. 19 military agreement between South and North Korea, a sign of his important status as a military figure in the Kim Jong Un government.
*Translated by Violet Kim
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