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(LEAD) Top N. Korean general seen as new point man on S. Korea: sources

All News 15:45 January 18, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 6, 12)

SEOUL, Jan. 18 (Yonhap) -- A top North Korean military official, thought to be behind the North's deadly attacks on South Korea in 2010, is believed to have been tapped as a party secretary handling inter-Korean affairs, parliamentary sources said Monday.

Gen. Kim Yong-chol, who has been leading the North's reconnaissance bureau, is likely to replace Kim Yang-gon, who died in a car accident in late December, as the secretary in charge of affairs with South Korea at the Workers' Party, the sources said.

The Youido Institute, a think tank under the ruling Saenuri Party, delivered a report on the new intelligence to its leadership earlier in the day.

Gen. Kim, known as a hard-liner, is believed to have orchestrated Pyongyang's two deadly attacks on the South in 2010 -- the sinking of the Cheonan warship and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. The two attacks killed a total of 50 South Koreans, including two civilians.

He is also known for having masterminded the planting of land mines across the inter-Korean border that severely injured two South Korean staff sergeants in August last year.

Since 2009, Kim has led the North's Reconnaissance General Bureau tasked with intelligence operations in foreign countries and cyberwarfare. The bureau is known to be behind Pyongyang's alleged cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014.

"We are closely monitoring the relevant situation," an intelligence agency official said.

Kim's possible nomination may cast clouds over the already strained inter-Korean ties, which have dropped to one of the worst levels as a result of the North's fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.

Kim Yang-gon, known for a dialogue-seeking figure, was called "the closest comrade-in-arms" of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim, who served as the head of the United Front Department in the party, was part of the North's delegation to rare inter-Korean high-level talks in August following heightened tensions sparked by the land mine blast.

The two Koreas reached a rare deal on Aug. 25 to defuse military tensions and make efforts to promote inter-Korean civilian exchanges.

"If Kim's nomination is confirmed, it means that North Korea will not care about the inter-Korean relations for the time being," said Kim Keun-sik, a professor at Kyungnam University. "Seoul-Pyongyang ties are likely to face military confrontation rather than a reconciliatory mood."


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