North Korea's enemy within

The highest-ranking North Korean defector predicted yesterday that Pyongyang's communist regime will be toppled in "several years" by its most trusted institution: the military.

The 1.1 million-strong North Korean armed forces - the world's fifth largest - form the backbone of the North's Stalinist rule in the midst of a deepening economic crisis. It is relying on international aid to feed its 22 million people.

"It is inevitable that the military will rise up," Hwang Jang Yop, 74, said in a speech to a presidential advisory group.

The former member of North Korea's policy-making body, the Central Committee of the ruling Workers Party, who defected to Seoul in April, the highest- ranking North Korean to do so, based his prediction on the crumbling of the North's vast military supply industries and sagging military morale.