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North Korea’s defense minister was promoted to vice marshal on the late leader’s birthday.

This photo, released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on September 30, 2021, shows North Korean Defense Minister Ri Yong-gil, who was elected as a member of the State Affairs Commission , the country’s top decision-making body, during the second day of a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the North’s top legislature, at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang the day before. (KCNA)

North Korean Defense Minister Ri Yong-gil has been promoted to the country’s third-highest military rank as vice marshal in a major reshuffle, state media said on Friday.

The latest shakeup appears intended to boost morale and unity among high-level officers as the North marks the 110th birth anniversary of its late national founder Kim Il-sung.

“A relevant decision was issued by the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea on April 14,” the official Korean Central News Agency said, referring to the ruling party’s top military decision-making body.

Ri, who previously served as social security minister, was confirmed by state media to have been appointed defense minister in July last year.

He was promoted to three-star colonel-general in December 2012. Eight months later, he was elevated to the rank of four-star general to head the general staff of the North Korean People’s Army, equivalent to chiefs of state- South Korean Joint Major.

Ri was abruptly removed from his general staff post in 2016, sparking speculation that he could have been executed for corruption. He returned to the highest military post in 2018 but was again stripped of the post the following year.

Earlier this week, the North also promoted six military officials, including former defense minister Kim Jong-gwan, to four-star general. (Yonhap)