He was the guardian figure always at the side of North Koreas young new leader. As the top army official,his experience and position lent Kim Jong-Un credibility with the troops. Now,Vice-Marshal Ri Yong-Ho is out,dismissed from several powerful posts because of illness, state media said Monday in a brief surprise announcement just days after he last appeared in public.
Ri did not appear ill in recent appearances,feeding speculation abroad that Kim purged him in an effort to put his own mark on the nation he inherited when father Kim Jong-Il died in December. At the same time,there was no sign of discord at Ris last public appearance at a high-level event,barely a week ago.
Still,Ris removal,whether for health reasons or political missteps,shakes the core of the authoritarian regimes power structure and may be a sign that Kim is tensing his grip on power,just as his father and grandfather,founding leader Kim Il Sung,did in their eras.
The decision to dismiss the 69-year-old from top military and political posts was made at a Workers Party meeting,convened uncharacteristically on Sunday,according to the official Korean Central News Agency. It was not immediately clear who would take Ris place,and the dispatch did not elaborate on his condition or future.
Whether because of a physical malady or political sin,Ri Yong Ho is out,and Pyongyang is letting the world know to not expect to hear about him anymore, said John Delury,an assistant professor at Yonsei Universitys Graduate School of International Studies in South Korea. Its too early to determine whether Ris stepping down is a manifestation of civil-military tensions,or Kim Jong-Uns attempt to consolidate control over the army, he said.