North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

VMAR Ri Tu Ik (1921-2002)

VMAR Ri Tu Ik was a late member of the Party Central Military Commission and a 1st generation DPRK elite and military leader who helped establish Kim Jong Il’s succession system in the 1970s and 1980s.  VMAR Ri was former commanding officer of the Pyongyang Defense Corps (Capital Defense Corps), chief of the General Staff Operations Bureau, and former area (region) and corps commander.  Ri’s ties to the Kim Family extended to the 1930s when he served under Kim Il Sung in Jilin, PRC.

Ri Tuk Il was born in Jilin Province in 1921.  He joined the partisan campaign in the 1930s as a member of Kim Il Sung’s security escort.  He received guerrilla training, in Northeast China.  He later conducted reconnaissance operations against Japan in and around Jilin Province and North Hamgyong, as a member of the Russians’ 88th Special Reconnaissance Brigade.  Around 1945 he rejoined Kim Il Sung’ security escort as platoon commander and, in 1948, company commander.

During the Korean (Victorious Fatherland Liberation) War, Ri served as a battalion commander.  From 1954 to 1958 he received professional military education in Russia from 1954 to 1958 with a concentration in joint warfare and special operations.  Upon his return to the DPRK he was assigned command of the 3rd regiment.  He was later appointed deputy commander of the 9th Division.  He was promoted to commanding officer of the 9th Division in 1962, as well as being elected for the first as a deputy to the Supreme People’s Assembly.

In the 1963 he was promoted to Lieutenant General and became chief of what is currently the General Staff Department’s Operations Bureau.  From 1965 to 1973 he served as commanding officer of the VII Army Corps.  From 1967 to 1968 Ri served as an advisor to the Vietcong.  He participated in the removal of the country’s defense managers in the late 1960s.  Ri was promoted to Colonel General in 1968 elected to full membership on the Party Central Committee at the 5th Party Congress in November 1970.

From 1973 to 1976 Ri Tu Ik served as commander of the 2nd Army Group. From 1977 to 1980 Ri commanded the II Army Corps.  He was elected a member of the Central Military Commission at the 6th Party Congress in October 1980. In the early 1980s Ri commanded the IV Army Corps.  In 1985 he was promoted to General.  From the late 1980s to 1992 Ri was commander of the Pyongyang Defense Corps.

Ri Tu Ik was promoted to Vice Marshal in April 1992.  He remained active in DPRK political life as a member of the Central Military Commission and advisor to Kim Jong Il.  He received medical treatment in the PRC in 1997.  Ri made his final public appearance in 1999.   He passed away in 2002 and was buried in the Patriotic Martyrs Cemetery in Ryongsong District in Pyongyang.  On 13 September 2002 KCNA reported that Ri Tu Ik’s remains were buried and monumental bust constructed at the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery on Mount Taesong in Pyongyang.

“Abbreviated Profiles of 200 DPRK Figures,” SINDONG-A , January 1995, pp 593-608

“DPRK Vice Marshal Yi Tu-ik Profiled,” Chungang Ilbo, August, 4, 2000

Kim Tu-hwan, “DPRK’s ‘First Generation’ of Revolution Fades Away,” Yonhap News Agency, March 16, 2002

Yonhap News Agency.  North Korea Handbook.  Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2003.

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