North Korea elevates leader to top military position

So Kim Jong Un has officially been named Marshal - the Supreme leader of North Korea now has the most important military title. No surprise that a country is calling its Leader, its Leader, but there is more to be read into the move.

On Sunday, the country's Army Chief Ri Yong Ho suddenly stepped down "due to illness". The official reason has been widely disputed by analysts. He is being seen as a high profile loser in a battle for control of the country's future.

A new Vice Marshal, Hyon Yong Chol, was appointed yesterday but he hasn't been made the new Army Chief.

Instead, the young leader Kim Jung Un, who has no military experience, now takes control of the armed forces. It would appear that Kim Jung Un is reducing the influence of top military officers.

Kim Jong Un salutes as he accompanies the hearse carrying his father Kim Jong Il. On the right, Ri Yong Ho, the former Army chief Credit: REUTERS/Kyodo

We know little about Hyon Yong Chol except that he was elected to the Party Central Committee in September 2010. He was also part of the funeral committee for Kim Jong Il last December, and can be seen accompanying the leader's hearse in the photograph above.

This April, in his first public speech, Kim Jung Un repeated the Kim dynasty's support for Songun or 'Military First' - the key policy that gives the armed forces the lion's share of the country's limited resources and funding. The policy came into force when the collapse of the Soviet Union put an end to subsidies from Moscow.

Members of the North Korean Army - the fourth-largest in the world Credit: REUTERS/Kyodo

When I visited North Korea's capital Pyongyang back in April, 18 months after my first visit to the country, it was clear that economic changes were taking place. New cars, new buildings and mobile phones being used. The elite are benefiting from new economic policies and cheaper technology. Trade with China is booming.

It now seems less 'Military First' and more 'Economy First'.

The worry will be that Kim Jung Un may order a fresh attack on the South as a way of demonstrating his control over the world's fourth-largest army.

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