Asia

Hyon Yong-chol, the general who rose out of obscurity

This photo taken on January 27, 2015 shows North Korean Defence Minister Hyon Yong-Chol directing a military exercise at an unspecified location in North Korea. Image copyright AFP

Until he was made defence minister, Hyon Yong-chol was a relatively obscure figure, who rose up steadily and quietly through army ranks.

In the North Korean world of multiple and complex military job titles, Mr Hyon has held a great variety of them.

But it was in 2010 that he was promoted to the rank of four-star general and on exactly the same day as Kim Jong-un was promoted. That military promotion list was the North Korean leader's major public debut, a sign that he was the anointed one.

Very little is really known about his fellow general Mr Hyon, but one clear sign of his growing influence in the final years of Kim Jong-il's rule was that he served on the committee for Kim Jong-il's funeral in December 2011.

He rose to sudden prominence when he replaced the powerful former army chief, Ri Yong-ho in the summer of 2012. Analysts said at the time that the reshuffle appeared to be an attempt by Kim Jong-un to stamp his authority on the army.

But it is unclear exactly why Mr Hyon has now been purged like this, as he only made the transition into this position of defence minister in June 2014.

Battalion commander

Since then, there has been little coverage that would suggest a trajectory out of the ordinary and there is little in his background that provide clues to his downfall.

According to DPRK state media, Hyon Yong-chol was born in January 1949 in North Hamgyo'ng Province and joined the military in March 1966.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Hyon is seen here at an event in Moscow

He served in the army's ground forces, been a battalion commander and brigade commander, according to North Korea analyst Michael Madden.

His political career began with his election as deputy a (delegate) to the 12th Supreme People's Assembly in 2009. After his name appeared on the four star general promotions list in 2010, he was elected a member of the Korean Workers' Party central committee at the so-called 3rd Party Conference.

He is one of the cast of figures who attended the numerous military inspections with Kim Jong Un and some analysts saw him as a close military adviser.

In June 2014 Hyon Yong-chol was appointed Minister of the People's Armed Forces and a member of North Korea's influential National Defense Commission.

Barely a year later, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that MPs were told Mr Hyon had been killed on 30 April - by anti-aircraft fire in front of an audience.

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