North Korea has replaced its nominal head of state – who represents Pyongyang in international engagements – with a man under US sanctions for alleged human rights abuses, state media reported on Friday (Apr 12).
Kim Yong Nam, who held the position for almost 20 years, was replaced by Choe Ryong Hae during the first session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly held Thursday, KCNA said.
One of the longest-serving officials in Pyongyang, 91-year-old Kim appeared in a number of international engagements last year, including landmark summits with the leaders of the US, China and South Korea – and the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
His official title was president of the praesidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.
His replacement Choe, considered a right-hand man to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was born in 1950, suggesting a generational shift in the North’s leadership.
He is one of the three Pyongyang officials sanctioned by the US last year over human rights abuse allegations.Advertisement
Elsewhere, top nuclear negotiator Kim Yong Chol and others involved in Pyongyang’s summit with the US in Hanoi in February were elected as State Affairs Commission members.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui were also promoted to the North’s top decision-making body.
And Pyongyang’s Premier Pak Pong Ju was replaced with Kim Jae Ryong, a senior member of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea, according to KCNA.
Analysts at NK News say Pak helped orchestrate a “radical reform” of the isolated North’s economy that enabled the nation to survive sanctions.
Kim Jong Un earlier this week insisted Pyongyang would overcome the effect of the sanctions, in his first official comment on Pyongyang’s position since talks on denuclearisation with Washington broke down in Vietnam in February.
He told top party officials to push ahead with “self-reliance” to undermine the sanctions, KCNA said.
As expected, KCNA also reported that Kim has been re-elected as chairman of the North’s State Affairs Commission.