North Korea said yesterday that its new leader, Kim Jong-un, has formally been appointed supreme military commander, another sign he is tightening his grip on power, as it renewed vitriolic attacks on Seoul.
Kim Jong-un had already been declared “supreme leader” of the country during memorial ceremonies for his late father, Kim Jong-il, on Thursday, as the nation ended 13 days of mourning.
“The dear respected Kim Jong-un ... assumed the supreme commandership of the Korean People’s Army at the behest of leader Kim Jong-il,” the official news agency said.
It said the decision was proclaimed on Friday at a meeting of the political bureau of the ruling communist party’s central committee.
Kim Jong-un, aged in his late 20s, inherits the world’s fourth-largest armed forces of 1.2 million and a national policy known as “Songun” that prioritizes their needs over those of civilians.
UN agencies say a quarter of the population urgently needs food aid, the ailing economy is struggling with shortages of power and raw materials and a nuclear and missile program has brought international sanctions.
However, the regime stressed on Friday it would not change course.
We “solemnly declare with confidence that the south Korean puppets and foolish politicians around the world should not expect any change,” said a statement from the National Defense Commission, the top decisionmaking body.
The North said it would never have dealings with the conservative South Korean government, which it designates as “traitors,” and harshly criticized Seoul for perceived slights during the mourning process for Kim Jong-il.
“We will surely force the group of traitors to pay for its hideous crimes committed at the time of the great national misfortune,” it said.
Pyongyang renewed the attack yesterday, threatening to “settle accounts” with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s government unless it apologizes for the alleged insults.
“He [Lee] is the worst type of anti-reunification element, traitor and pro-US fascist maniac steeped in extreme bitterness toward compatriots and confrontation hysteria to the marrow of his bones,” the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement.
The North “is left with no option but to finally settle accounts with the Lee group unless it apologizes for the above-said crimes,” it said.
Despite the bellicose language, analysts said that the North was trying to close ranks against a purported enemy and warning the world against any interference during the transition.
They said the chance of any provocation was low in the near future. Lee’s government expressed sympathy for North Korea’s people, but not the regime after Kim Jong-il’s death and allowed only two private mourning delegations to visit Pyongyang.
Activists launched propaganda leaflets across the border into the North on the day of Kim’s funeral. Seoul says it cannot legally ban the launches.
Kim Jong-un was made a four-star general in September and given important party posts as his father groomed him for the country’s second dynastic succession.
He was swiftly proclaimed “great successor” after Kim Jong-il reportedly died of a heart attack on Dec. 17 at the age of 69.
North Korea also announced that it would issue gold and silver coins to mark the 20th anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s appointment as military commander.