Military retirement fuels speculation in North Korea

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The Independent Online

North Korea has pushed one of its highest-ranking military officers into retirement, in an announcement that may indicate frustration with a policy blunder.

"Kim Il-chol was relieved of the posts as member of the National Defence Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and first vice-minister of the People's Armed Forces for his advanced age of 80," the official KCNA news agency said.

Mr Kim, 80, was a close confidant of leader Kim Jong-il, and had spent 12 years as vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission, the centre of power in the secretive state.

Kim Il-chol appeared to fall out of favour when he was ousted from another post as defence minister in a cabinet reshuffle last year. Experts said the retirement could be because of old age as the dispatch said. But the announcement is unusual because normally only deaths are reported.

"One possibility is that Kim Il-chol was sacked to take responsibility for the announcement on nuclear fusion," said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Pyongyang said this week it had created a nuclear fusion reaction to produce energy, a claim experts said was absurd for a country so poor it cannot generate power to light itself at night. The North was roundly ridiculed for the claim.