In a move that has caught the international community by surprise, Chosun People’s Army Chief of Staff V. Mar Lee Young Ho (aka Ri Yong Ho), someone seen as one of Kim Jong Eun’s closest regime allies, was relieved of all his official duties by a meeting of the Party Central Committee Politburo on Sunday.
In a short article released this morning, Chosun Central News Agency cited illness as the reason behind the removal of the 70-year old Lee.
The move is a shock because Lee had been one of the most successful figures in the regime following Kim Jong Eun’s formal emergence as the successor to Kim Jong Il. In addition to being Chief of Staff, he had been a member of the Politburo and its elite 5-man Standing Committee, and vice-chairman of the Party Central Military Commission. All were positions he had been promoted into since the 3rd Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference on September 28th, 2010, the day after he was promoted to vice marshal.
Lee was also one of the eight regime heavyweights who walked alongside the hearse carrying Kim Jong Il’s body during his funeral procession on December 28th, 2012. According to the North Korean media, his last public appearance was during a visit to Keumsusan Memorial Palace with Kim and other members of the regime elite at midnight on July 8th to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the death of Kim Il Sung.
Although the KCNA report cited illness as the cause of Lee’s removal, the sudden nature of his disappearance so soon after last appearing at an event is bound to lead to speculation about other possible causes.