Seoul: Seoul is investigating whether a demoted North Korean general has won back his former rank as a reward for the sinking of a South Korean warship, an official said on Monday.
North Korean TV footage and a still photo released over the weekend showed Kim Myong-Guk wearing a uniform with four stars on the collar.
Kim, who heads the general staff`s operations bureau, had been demoted to a three-star general in January, earlier photos showed.
"We are trying to check what`s behind his promotion," a Seoul intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.
"We are trying to see if the promotion was related to the sinking of the Cheonan but have reached no conclusions yet."
There was speculation that Kim had lost a star to take responsibility for a naval clash near the inter-Korean border last November which left a North Korean patrol boat in flames.
On March 26, an explosion sank the Cheonan, a 1,200-tonne South Korean corvette, near the countries` border with the loss of 46 lives.
Seoul officials suspect a torpedo attack -- possibly in revenge for the November clash. They have not so far publicly blamed Pyongyang pending a full-scale multinational investigation.
The general -- sporting his four stars -- was shown briefing the North`s leader Kim Jong-Il in front of a camouflaged military base at an undisclosed location.
JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said Kim was not among those named in a mass promotion of generals to mark this month`s birth anniversary of the North`s founder Kim Il-Sung.
"It is extremely rare for a general who wasn`t included in the main promotion to move up a rank in a separate move," an unidentified official told the paper.
"We`re trying to determine whether Kim`s promotion was related to the Cheonan sinking."
South Korea on Sunday began five days of national mourning for the victims, with public shrines set up in Seoul and other cities. A photo exhibition opened in Seoul in their memory.