North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

VMAR Kim Il Chol Retires

Retired VMAR Kim Il Chol (2nd L) at the March 2010 rally in Hamhung (Photo: KCNA)

NDC Member, KWP CMC and CC member, and Senior Vice Minister of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, Vice Marshal Kim Il Chol, is retiring.  Yonhap’s Sam Kim reports on KCNA’s announcement, citing a KCNA announcement of National Defense Commission “Decision No.6.”

North Korea announced Friday it relieved a Navy admiral and senior member of its highest decision-making body of all his posts, citing his old age.

North Korea rarely announces the removal of an individual official based on age. The official Korean Central News Agency said in a single-paragraph report that Kim Il-chol, 80, was relieved of all his posts as a member of the National Defense Commission (NDC) and first vice minister of the People’s Armed Forces.

The announcement raised questions among North Korea observers as two other NDC members, Jo Myong-rok and Jon Pyong-ho, are both older than Kim — 82 and 84, respectively.

Kim served as minister of the People’s Armed Forces from 1998-2009. Cho Myung-chul, a North Korea researcher at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul, speculated Kim may have been disgruntled over his demotion.

KCNA reports:

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, according to Decision No. 06 of the NDC issued on May 13.

VMAR Kim was appointed Minister of the People’s Armed Forces in September 1998, replacing MAR Choe Kwang who passed away in 1997.  VMAR Kim was Minister until 2009 when he was replaced by VMAR Kim Yong Chun.  Prior to his appointment he was commander of the KPA Navy, a post he was appointed in 1982.

VMAR Kim was born in Pyongyang in 1930.  He attended the Mangyongdae Revolutionary school and his military education includes naval officers’ school,  the Kim Jong Suk Naval Academy and studying in the USSR in the 1960’s. He was a deputy commander of North Korean naval forces during the Korean (or Victorious Fatherland Liberation) War.  In 1968 he was assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff (GSD) for the Navy, and in 1971, became Chief of Staff (for the Navy).  His promotions were likely related to his initiaton of the capture of USS Pueblo.

VMAR Kim was first elected to the 7th Supreme People’s Assembly in 1982 and has been a deputy (delegate) to the SPA since.  He was promoted to Lieutenant General KPA in June  1982, Colonel-General in August 1985 and General in April 1992.  He was promoted to KPA Vice Marshal in April 1997, part of KPA promotions in honor KIS 85th birthday.  He was appointed as a member of the National Defense Commission in 1998, later rising to Vice Chairman.

It remains to be seen whether Kim Il Chol’s retirement is, as suggested by the ROK media, the first of other NDC retirements.  Also cited as having reached the end of their careers are the presumably ailing Senior Vice Chairman, VMAR Jo Myong Rok , and Member and Director of the KWP Munitions Industry Department, Jon Pyong Ho.  Daily NK offers some theories as to VMAR Kim’s retirement, including whether this presents an opportunity for a succession-related appointment to replace VMAR Kim on the NDC, which now has eleven (11) members.

If Kim Jong Il has decided to fill the vacancy, a speculative list of candidates may be found in KPA military promotions of the last two years.  Then again, Kim Il Chol’s replacement may be related to the NDC publicly stretching its tentacles in the country’s economy, and the vacancy could come from the KWP.

VMAR Kim (1st R) attending Kim Jung Rin's wake in May 2010 (Photo: KCNA)

Ministry of People's Armed Forces in Pyongyang

An affiliate of 38 North