North Korea's top army chief and longtime mentor to the country's young leader was relieved of his post due to illness, the government announced at a Workers' Party meeting Sunday, the Associated Press today cited state news as saying.
Ri Yong-ho, often seen at the side of young new leader Kim Jong Un, held three powerful positions in North Korea: head of the military, until recently vice marshall of the one-million strong Korean People's Army – considered one of the world's largest – and a prominent voice in the Workers' Party, according to SKY News.
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Kim Jong Un, who took over as leader of the communist country after his father died seven months ago, has more or less continued his father's militarist policies.
Meanwhile, analysts are divided on what Ri's departure might signal in the secretive country:
Option one: he might actually be sick.
Option two: Kim wanted to distance himself from his former mentor as a way to assert his political independence, the International Crisis Group's North Korea watcher Daniel Pinkston told AP.
Option three: it was a purge, with Ri pushed out in order to make way for rival Choe Ryong Hae, recently promoted to Ri's old position as vice marshall of the army, argued South Korean professor Koh Yu-hwan, according to AP.
Option four: the 69-year-old was simply too old, suggested Seoul-based analyst Hong Hyun-ik, telling AP he expects more dismissals of elder politicians as part of a new policy promoting "generational change."
No one was named to replace him and no details were given as to Ri's reported illness, said SKY, while AP noted that Ri "had looked healthy in recent appearances."