North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been granted the title of marshal, state media reported Wednesday, cementing his status as the authoritarian nation’s top military official as he makes key changes to the million-man force.
The decision to award Kim, who already serves as supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, was made Tuesday by the nation’s top military, government and political officials, state media said in a special bulletin.
The formal move to bestow the title of marshal to Kim comes seven months into his rule and follows several days of reshuffling at the highest levels of the military.
On Monday, North Korea announced that the chief of the army, Ri Yong Ho, a high-ranking figure in both political and military circles, was dismissed from all posts due to illness. The following day, a little-known general, Hyon Yong Chol, was promoted to vice marshal, one of four named to that position since Kim Jong Un took power.
The dismissal of Ri, who had been promoted to vice marshal in 2010 and had been seen as a mentor to Kim Jong Un, was a surprise to many outside observers.
Kim Jong Un took over as North Korea’s leader following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, in December, and has continued to maintain his father’s policy of “songun,” or military first.
The position of marshal had been left vacant following the death of Kim Jong Il, who posthumously was made grand marshal the nation’s top military title in February on what would have been his 70th birthday. He had been named marshal 20 years ago when North Korea founder Kim Il Sung was promoted to grand marshal.
Aside from Ri and Hyon, eight other generals hold the post of vice marshal in North Korea.
It remains unclear how the military reshuffle will affect North Korea’s tense relationship with its neighbors and the United States, which stations more than 28,000 troops in ally South Korea.