N.Korea’s Leading Apparatchiks

Choson Ilbo
9/18/2008

Gen. Hyon Chol-hae, the 74-year-old deputy director of the general political department of the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) has been North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s most frequent companion on official occasions. Hyon has accompanied Kim, who is said to be recovering from a stroke, on 32 occasions this year.

In analysis of senior North Korean officials who have accompanied Kim on his inspections of various facilities until Aug. 14, Hyon was followed by Gen. Ri Myong-su (71), director of the administrative department of the National Defense Commission (29 occasions); Kim Ki-nam (82), director of the propaganda department of the North Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) (22 occasions); Pak Nam-gi (74), director of the planning and fiscal affairs department of the KWP (10 occasions); Kim Jong-gak (62), first vice-director of the KPA’s general political department, Pak To-chun, chief secretary of the WPK Jagang Provincial Committee, Kim Kyok-sik, chief of the KPA general staff (seven occasions); Jang Song-taek (62), director of the administrative department of the KWP (five occasions); and North Korea’s first vice foreign minister Kang Sok-ju (67) (five occasions).

During these inspections, Kim has given instructions to military officers, government officials and plant managers. The more often these elderly men accompany Kim, the closer the Unification Ministry, which carried out the analysis, considers them to the North Korean leader. Hyon, Ri, Kim and Pak ranked first through fourth in 2007 as well

Song Dae-sung, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, said there is no big change in the ranking order of those closest aides to Kim Jong-il, who are assisting Kim on his sickbed or governing North Korea on his behalf.

Hyon Chol-hae
The KPA’s general political department, which Hyon controls as deputy director, is in charge of the entire KPA organization. A graduate of the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School, which families and descendants of the anti-Japanese partisans attend, he controls the school’s graduates, most of whom serve in the military. During the Korean War, he was Kim Il-sung’s bodyguard. He accompanied Kim junior on his visit to China in 2001.

Hyon stood on the platform alongside other North Korean leaders during a military parade on North Korea’s 60th anniversary on Sept. 9. According to analysts, normally only vice marshals or higher-ranking military officers are allowed to stand on the platform, and Hyon, a general, was an unprecedented exception.

Suh Jae-jean, director of the Korea Institute for National Unification, said, “It seems that Hyon Chol-hae is currently running North Korea behind the scenes. He is expected to play a leading role in laying the foundation for the post-Kim Jong-il era according to Kim’s wishes.” The institute says Hyon also has connections with Kim’s second son Jong-chol (27).

Ri Myong-su
Ri is director of the administrative department of the National Defense Commission, North Korea’s de facto supreme leadership. As the NDC’s administrative department director, he controls inspection and intelligence activities within the KPA. Until last year, he was under Kim Jong-il’s direct command as the director of the KPA’s operations department.

Ri emerged as a strongman in the process of Kim’s succession to power in the 1970s, by displaying loyalty to him. He has been Kim’s second most frequent companion since 2003.

Ryu Dong-ryeol, a researcher at the Police Science Institute, said, “Hyon and Ri directly report to Kim Jong-il.”

Kim Ki-nam
Kim is a well-known figure in South Korea since making an unannounced visit to the Seoul National Cemetery when he was in Seoul as the chief of a North Korean delegation to a “Unification Festival” marking Liberation Day on Aug. 15, 2005. He is Kim’s mouthpiece as secretary for propaganda for the KWP Central Committee. He was the editor-in-chief of the Rodong Shinmun, the organ of the KWP Central Committee, in 1976. In 1985, he was appointed director of the propaganda department of the KWP Central Committee.

Lee Ki-dong, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, said, “Kim Ki-nam will be in charge of publicizing at home and abroad Kim Jong-il’s decision about a successor.”

Pak Nam-gi
Pak is in charge of North Korea’s economy. Since 1976, he has worked as an economic expert as vice chairman of the State Planning Commission, the agency that controls North Korea’s planned economy.

As the first vice-director of the KPA’s general political department, Kim Jong-gak is in charge of propaganda within the military. Kim Kyok-sik assumed the post as the chief of KPA general staff in April last year, and Pak To-chun has served as the chief secretary of the KWP Jagang Provincial Committee since 2005.

Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law, fell out of favor with Kim in May 2004. But he came back in 2006 and has since controlled powerful agencies such as the Ministry of Public Security and the State Security Department, and prosecutors’ offices. He is reportedly close to Kim’s eldest son Jong-nam (37).

Kang Sok-ju played a major role in reaching the U.S.-North Korean Geneva Agreement in 1994.

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