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S.Korea says ready amid North's power struggle

S.Korea says ready amid North's power struggle

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) -- Top military commanders held their biannual meeting on Wednesday to assess the security situation and their readiness, carefully navigating potential changes in North Korea driven by a power struggle in its inner circle.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin hosted the meeting attended by 140 military brass across the nation, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Choi Yun-hee, heads of the military branches and major operation commanders, to discuss the present security issues.



Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin (C), Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Choi Yun-hee (2nd from L), and chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Forces attend the biannual military commanders' meeting at the defense ministry on Dec. 4, 2013, to assess security situations and military readiness. (Yonhap)
The meeting took place at a time when Seoul is keeping a watchful eye on Pyongyang after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, is believed to have been removed last month from all posts, along with two of his close confidants who were publicly executed.

If confirmed, Jang's ouster would mark the most significant purge at the top of the North Korean leadership since Kim succeeded his late father Kim Jong-il in December 2011.

"Two years after Kim Jong-un took power, work is currently underway to reorganize the power structure within the inner circle in North Korea. Under this circumstance, North Korea is stepping up military capabilities across the nation," defense chief Kim said in an opening remark. "The commanders' meeting this year is especially significant."

   Kim urged enhanced readiness on the frontline and northwestern border islands, saying Pyongyang has lately increased artillery and infiltration forces near the border and posed a greater threat of "unidentified provocations" such as cyber threat.

"The North Korean regime has created an atmosphere of fear in the process of cementing the power grip, which could in turn lead to unprovoked attacks," Kim said. "The military should prepare for both provocations and a full-out battle."

   Although two of Jang's aides were executed in the North, the defense chief remained cautious over the complete purge of Jang, the husband of Kim Jong-il's powerful sister Kim Kyung-hui, noting additional information is needed to confirm the intelligence and predict the reclusive state's next move.

His remark underscores the unpredictability of the Pyongyang regime, which had often deceived South Korean intelligence when carrying out missile and nuclear tests in the past.

Major commanders vowed to maintain high vigilance against the communist state to prevent any provocations for its political gains.

"Jang Song-thaek's ouster could give more power to Kim Jong-un and his close aides, which could increase instability in the Pyongyang regime," a senior military official said. "In light of the recent change, calls are rising that (the South Korean military) should prepare not only for provocations but also for an all-out battle."

   The North has started winter drills across the nation earlier this week and increased forces on the frontline, but Seoul has not yet detected any special troop movement in the communist state, said a senior government official speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In light of the recent moves, South Korea on Monday ordered troops to step up surveillance and vigilance to keep close monitoring on the North Korean military's unusual movement, the official said.

ejkim@yna.co.kr

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