North Korea Plays Musical Chairs Again

John Kim, Nov. 9, 2015, 8:15 a.m.

Workers Party secretary Choe Ryong-hae, the comeback kid of the secretive North Korean regime, was missing from an important roster last week, triggering rumors that he has been sacked again.There was no trace of Choe (65) on the guest list for the funeral of Ri Ul-sol, an iconic old apparatchik and soldier who died of lung cancer. 

State media reported Sunday the regime will hold a state funeral for Ri and that leader Kim Jong-un will lead a preparatory committee.The 171-member committee includes the usual roster of top officials in order of importance, including Kim Yong-nam, the perennial president of the Supreme People's Assembly, and Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so.

But Choe was not on the list. A Unification Ministry official said, "We're looking closely at the situation since it's unusual for Choe's name to be omitted from the funeral committee." "This just wouldn't be possible unless Choe was sacked from his key posts," speculated Chung Sung-jang at the Sejong Institute. "He was probably involved in a major corruption scandal or other serious offense."

On Nov. 2, the official Rodong Sinmun in an editorial lambasted an unnamed high-ranking official who had been "thrown away as trash," adding that this offered "a lesson to be learned from the revolutionary struggle." There was speculation that the editorial referred to Choe, whose father was a partisan who fought alongside nation founder Kim Il-sung against the Japanese.

Choe had previously been sacked due to a corruption scandal in 1998, but was later reinstated, only to be sacked again in 2014 after rising to the rank of Army politburo chief. Ri too was a partisan and the only surviving member among the first generation of North Korean revolutionaries. 

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