North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Ri Ul Sol (1921-2015)

Ri Ul Sol (NK Leadership Watch file photos)

Ri Ul Sol (NK Leadership Watch file photos)

1st revolutionary generation DPRK elite, Member of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee Member and Korean People’s Army [KPA] Marshal Ri Ul Sol (Ri U’l-so’l) has passed away at the age of 94.   According to DPRK state media, MAR Ri succumbed to lung cancer for which he received treatment “for a long time.”  An obituary disseminated in DPRK state media noted that even though MAR Ri passed away “the exploits he performed for the Party, the revolution, the country and its people would shine forever with the triumphant advance of the revolutionary cause of Chuch’e.”  Ri’s wake will be held at the Central Workers’ Hall during November 8 and November 10 and his state funeral will be held on November 11.

Prior to his death, Ri also was a deputy (delegate) to the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly.  From 1980 to 2010 he was a member of the Party Central Military Commission [CMC] and from 1990 to 2003 was a member of the National Defense Commission.  Ri held a number of command positions in the KPA, was a vice minister of State Security and from 1996 to his effective retirement in 2003 was director of the Guard Command which is responsible for the personal security escort (bodyguards) of members of the Kim Family and core DPRK leadership.


According to his obituary in DPRK state media Ri Ul Sol “was an anti-Japanese revolutionary fighter and veteran revolutionary loyal to the WPK as he devoted his all to winning the victory in the cause of national and class liberation and developing the KPA into invincible revolutionary armed forces going in the military uniform of the revolution all his life at the outpost for devotedly defending the Party and leaders” and “dedicated his all to the sacred cause of liberating the country by participating in the glorious anti-Japanese armed struggle led by President Kim Il Sung in the dark period of the Japanese imperialist rule” and “he protected Kim Il Sung (Kim Il-so’ng) with arms at the risk of his life and devoted himself to developing the KPA.”

Ri Ul Sol was a bodyguard to late DPRK President and founder Kim Il Sung during the 1940s.  He served as a regimental commander and deputy commander of the 15th Division during the Fatherland Liberation War (Korean War) in which, according to KCNA, he “made great contributions to beating back the U.S. imperialists’ invasion and winning the victory in the war and performed distinguished feats in defending the Korean revolution as chief adjutant of Kim Il Sung.”

After the war he was promoted to Lieutenant General.  From 1962 to 1967 he served as commander of the V Army Corps.  He was elected an alternate (candidate) member of the WPK Central Committee during the 2nd Party Conference in October 1966.  From 1968 to 1971 he served as commander of the I Army Corps, but was assigned back as CO of V Corps in 1972.  He was elevated to full member of the WPK Central Committee during the 5th Party Congress in November 1970.  In 1975 he temporarily migrated from military command to serving as Chief Secretary of the South Hamgyo’ng WPK Committee.  He was elected to the CMC during the 6th Party Congress in October 1980.

In 1982, Ri Ul Sol was appointed deputy commander (deputy director) of the Guard Command.  In 1984 he served on an interim basis as Minister of State Security.  He was promoted to four-star General (taejang) in 1985.  Ri was elected to the National Defense Commission at the 1st session (plenum) of the 9th SPA in 1990.  He was given the title of Marshal in October 1995.

MAR Ri received a number of state titles and awards during his long career.  KCNA summed up Ri’s career by saying he “devoted himself to firmly establishing the unitary leadership of the supreme commander over the whole army, thoroughly implementing the Party’s Chuch’e-based military line and firmly guaranteeing the revolutionary cause of Chuch’e and Songun (Military-First) with matchless military muscle.”

According to his official biography, Ri Ul Sol was born on September 14, 1921 in Kim Ch’aek (So’ngjin), North Hamgyo’ng Province to an impoverished family.  He received his professional military education in the DPRK and in Russia.  Ri had several children and grandchildren who are active in the KPA and the DPRK’s political culture.  In addition to his own family Ri Ul Sol was a surrogate father figure to late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il (Kim Cho’ng-il) and his sister Kim Kyong Hui.  Ri had close personal ties to  KJI’s children including his eldest son Kim Jong Nam (whom he viewed and treated as a grandson), Kim So’l Song and Kim Jong Un.

An affiliate of 38 North