No Kwang Chol was transferred to a research institute affiliated with the North Korean military’s General Staff Department in May following his short-lived command of the 1st Corps, Daily NK has learned.
Daily NK reported in March that he had been appointed as commander of the 1st Corps, an elite unit based along the eastern part of the 38th Parallel.
A source in North Korea told Daily NK on Tuesday that No was transferred to the Tactical Operations Research Institute in Pyongyang with the rank of a lieutenant general. “It is common for former commanders to be transferred there, and No has been tasked with completing the Supreme Leader [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un]’s new tactical operations system,” he said.
No was conspicuously absent from a photo taken on July 26 when Kim gifted “Mt. Baekdu” pistols to various key military commanders to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement. His absence in the commemorative photo led to speculation that he may have been “dismissed” as 1st Corps commander.
When he headed the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces and, later, commanded the 1st Corps, No was a four-star general, but he has now become a two-star general since taking up his post at the research institute. Daily NK’s source explained, however, that this is not a “demotion” but rather a rank that “befits” his new role. Typically, demotions are handed out as punishments; in this case, No’s entire job has shifted so the change in rank does not necessarily mean he has been punished.
“It is a demotion in terms of rank, but all commanders are conferred the title major general or lieutenant general when they transfer to the institute,” the source said. “There is a separate system of military titles for cadres and the rank of major general or lieutenant general are given to those who work at the research institute.”
Under North Korea’s military ranking system, lieutenant general is the highest military title granted to researchers at the research institute, so – based on the source’s report – No appears to have received the highest rank possible.
When high-ranking officials nearing retirement age are withdrawn from active duty and become researchers, it is generally considered an opportunity for them to continue working in their field of expertise; indeed, these officials may even consider it honor to be recognized by the “Supreme Commander” (Kim Jong Un) as still being “useful” to the regime.
Jong Myong Do, a former North Korean naval commander, is known to have followed a similar path as No while leaving active duty. Jong was once a four-star general, but was given the rank of two-star lieutenant general after being transferred to the research institute.
According to the source, No had officially been appointed as 1st Corps commander to perfect the unit’s “war readiness” and strengthen its logistics-related operations. In practice, however, his “main role” was to revamp the unit’s organizational makeup and tactical operations plans to ensure they were in harmony with the country’s “newly-deployed weapons.”
No also accompanied Kim Jong Un on several inspection tours of military units in February and March of this year, the source noted.
Some raised questions about why the commander of the 1st Corps – a unit stationed on the “eastern front” – accompanied the North Korean leader on a visit to an artillery firing contest conducted by a group of military units stationed on the “western front.” These voices fell silent, however, after it became known that No “understood the intentions of the Supreme Commander” and was tasked with the “important duty” of revamping tactical operations plans for all front line units.
“Many now believe that No was transferred to Pyongyang [where the institute is located] to devise more accurate and thorough tactics for army, navy, air force and strategic units stationed on the front line,” the source said.
Clarification: A prior version of this article failed to make clear that No Kwang Chol did attend the event on July 26. It has now been edited for clarification.
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