Pyongyang: North Korea`s young leader Kim Jong-Un appears to have replaced his hawkish, ageing Army chief in what analysts suggested Friday was a further bid to tighten control over the military.
Kim Kyok-Sik, 75, is believed to have been replaced as chief of the army`s general staff by Ri Yong-Gil who, until now, has headed the army`s general staff operations department.
The North on Sunday held a meeting of the powerful central military commission where personnel changes were made, state media reported.
Then on Wednesday, in a report on top-ranking officials attending a football match in Pyongyang, the official Rodong Sinmun daily named Ri ahead of Jang Jong-Nam, the defence minister, while Kim was not mentioned at all.
Ri, believed to be in his 60s, was also pictured with the insignia of a four-star general, compared to his previous three stars.
"The state media does sometimes mess around with the order of senior officials` names... but there is a possibility General Ri has replaced General Kim," the specialist website NK Leadership Watch noted.
Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think-tank in Seoul said the listing change coupled with the promotion to four-star general meant Ri "must have taken over" as army chief.
An official with South Korea`s Unification Ministry said the government had a policy of not commenting on reported personnel changes in the North.
North Korea`s young leader has substantially reshuffled his military top brass since taking over the reins of power from his late father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011, in an apparent attempt to secure his leadership.
Kim Kyok-Sik was seen as a hardliner and reportedly ordered the shelling of Yeonpyeong island in November 2010 when he commanded the North`s Fourth Army Corps.
Kim was only named army chief three months ago. He had previously held the post from 2007-2009.
Chang Yong-Seok of the Institute for Peace and Unification at Seoul National University said Kim was a legacy appointee from the Kim Jong-Il era.
"This means Kim Jong-Un has almost completed replacing old generals left over from his father`s time with younger generals who are loyal to himself," Chang said.