Kim Replaces North Korea’s Defense Chief With Younger General

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un replaced his defense chief with a younger, little-known general in the second such personnel shift since he took power in 2011.

Jang Jong Nam yesterday accompanied Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju to a performance in Pyongyang as minister of the People’s Armed Forces, the official Korean Central News Agency reported today. His predecessor, 73-year-old Kim Kyok Sik, took the post last year, according to South Korea’s Munhwa Ilbo newspaper.

Jang is believed to be in his early 50s and to have “very strong loyalty” to Kim Jong Un, Yonhap News reported today, citing an unidentified South Korean government official. His age and other personal details can’t be confirmed as he isn’t listed in the South Korean Unification Ministry’s April 2012 directory of 42 key North Korean figures.

Kim, who succeeded his late father as leader in December 2011, has made several personnel changes as he works to ensure control over the totalitarian state. Tensions on the Korean peninsula are high after the North tested an atomic device in February and threatened preemptive nuclear attacks against the U.S. and South Korea.

North Korea is in the midst of a generational shift in its military forces, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters today in Seoul, while declining to make further assessments. The ministry needs to see more personnel appointments to determine whether this reflects a change in military policy, Kim said.

Little is known about Jang, who has been named in six KCNA statements since 2008. Kim’s father Kim Jong Il promoted Jang to Major General in April 2011, KCNA said. As commander of the army’s First Corps, Jang vowed at a rally in Pyongyang in December to “annihilate” North Korea’s enemies.

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