(ATTN: MODIFIES lead, ADDS analysts views in paras 10-14)
By Kim Hyun
SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea promoted industrial veterans to top posts in its latest Cabinet reshuffle, signaling Pyongyang's stepped-up drive to rebuild the country's frail economy, Seoul officials and analysts said Tuesday.
A reshuffle in the communist state is usually inferred when new faces appear in its media, as the country does not publicize such moves.
Five new names were mentioned as the North's ministers of railways, forestry, electricity, agriculture and metal industry in the North's New Year message and reports in October, Seoul's Unification Ministry Spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.
"They are formerly vice ministers or those who climbed the ladder in each field. The reshuffle considered their on-spot experiences and expertise," the spokesman said.
It was not clear when the reshuffle took place, he said.
North Korean media have been reporting a brisk campaign to rebuild the country's ailing industrial infrastructure, following up on the New Year economic blueprint rolled out by leader Kim Jong-il. Kim called on citizens "to solve problems by our own efforts" and increase production in electricity, coal and daily equipment.
In the reshuffle, Jon Kil-su was named minister of railways; Kim Kwang-yong minister of forestry; Ho Taek minister of power industry; Kim Chang-sik minister of agriculture; Kim Tae-bong minister of metal industry.
Kim Kwang-yong and Kim Chang-sik were vice ministers and Jon held a senior post in their respective ministry. Ho was formerly a power plant chief, while little was known about Kim Tae-bong, Seoul officials said.
The shakeup was rumored to have affected more posts, but the Seoul spokesman could not officially confirm it.
Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea studies professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, said the reshuffle is a sign that the North is shifting its focus to the economy from the military. In its New Year message, Pyongyang pledged to build a "prosperous and powerful nation" by 2012, the 100th anniversary of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung's birth, he noted.
"The key word this year is the economy," Koh said. "The reshuffle seems to suggest officials with technical expertise should take the initiative to develop the economy."
Kim Young-yoon, a researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification, said Pyongyang is turning to its natural resources amid suspension of South Korean aid. The Seoul government halted its customary aid of rice and fertilizer this past year as Pyongyang refused offers of dialogue.
"North Korea has no other way but turn to its own natural resources as long as inter-Korean relations and the nuclear issue are in limbo," he said.
Multilateral talks to terminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program are virtually on hold until the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama lays out its policy.
Sources also say North Korea sacked its pointman on South Korea amid the inter-Korean stalemate last year. Choe Sung-chol, vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee handling inter-Korean affairs, was dismissed in early 2008 for not accurately assessing the South Korea's Lee Myung-bak government, they say.
The unification ministry spokesman said he heard of the rumor "many times" but could not confirm it.
(U20 World Cup) S. Korea going for historic title vs. Ukraine
(U20 World Cup) S. Korea's Lee Kang-in wins Golden Ball as tournament MVP
BTS dazzles 25,000 fans in Busan
(LEAD) Moon suggests trust-based denuclearization, peace
Thousands of S. Koreans ask gov't to approve their trip to Mount Kumgang