The chief of staff of North Korea’s military, the country’s second-highest military leader, was quarantined and then released from isolation in February, Daily NK has learned. 

“Pak Jong Chon, chief of the general staff of the Korean People’s Army [KPA], was placed under quarantine in early February for about 20 days before being released in late February,” a KPA source told Daily NK on Mar. 10. “The order for his quarantine came directly from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.”

“Despite the national borders being shut down and travel between the provinces restricted, Park reportedly traveled to firing ranges and other military bases on the outskirts of Pyongyang, including Pyongyang Defense Command, coming into contact with both ordinary soldiers and commanders,” the source continued.

”News of Pak’s travels reached Kim Jong Un and it became an issue,” he added. 

Kim Jong Un was reportedly enraged upon hearing that Pak visited multiple military units in early February and came into contact with hundreds of soldiers. 

Kim described Pak as a “hopeless person” and censured him for “wandering about’ during a “time like this” given the threat of COVID-19, Daily NK sources said.

Although Pak tested negative for COVID-19, he was still quarantined for 20 days in accordance with Kim’s orders that Pak be quarantined regardless of the test results.

Pak was reportedly quarantined in a room at the Jangsan Lodge in the Sosong District of Pyongyang. Jangsan Lodge is a facility reserved for high-ranking military guests, such as generals. Pak was likely isolated there to prevent the public from discovering that such a high-ranking military official had been quarantined. 

When his quarantine was lifted, Pak reportedly accompanied Kim Jong Un on a Feb. 28 joint strike drill. Although neither the Rodong Sinmun nor the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) disclosed the names of the officials who were with Kim that day, Pak can be spotted in photographs published by North Korean state media. 

KCNA also reported that Pak accompanied Kim to a firepower strike drill of long-range artillery units on Mar. 2.

Unlike Kim, who was mask-free on both days, Pak and other military officials were seen donning black masks.

Rumors have circulated in the military that there have not been any signs of COVID-19 among high-ranking military officials. Some attribute the reason for Pak’s quarantine to Kim’s fear for his personal safety. 

“The top-ranking officials think that Kim Jong Un was worried that Pak —who accompanies the leader on his visits to military units or when he receives strategy reports—might have gotten infected, which is why he quarantined him,” one source told Daily NK. 

Pak was also seen accompanying Kim to another firepower strike drill of long-range artillery units on Mar. 9. 

Photographs published show Pak wearing a mask, although Kim Jong Un is once again mask-free.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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