Hyon Yong-Chol has been appointed as North Korea’s new vice-marshal, the official KCNA news agency says.
The move comes a day after the army chief, Ri Yong-Ho, was removed from his post “due to illness”.
The decision was made by the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the National Defense Commission of North Korea, KCNA said.
The statement did not say if Hyon Yong-Chol was taking over the top military job from Ri Yong-Ho.
Hyon Yong-Chol has been appointed as North Korea’s new vice-marshal
Little is known of Hyon Yong-Chol, who is reported to be a member of the party’s 120-member central committee. He is now one of four vice-marshals in the army.
Ri Yong-Ho, 69, who was also a vice-marshal, was vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission and held top posts in the ruling Workers’ Party.
Hyon Yong-Chol is believed to have been appointed a general in 2010 but is not currently part of the military commission chaired by young leader Kim Jong-Un, reports said.
He appears to be the latest rising star in North Korean politics.
Ri Yong-Ho’s removal took many North Korea observers by surprise, with widespread skepticism at the official explanation for the move.
He was seen as a key figure in the recent transition of power from Kim Jong-Il, who died in December 2011, to his son.
He was made army chief three years ago under Kim Jong-Il and appeared regularly at state occasions beside the late Kim.
He was also one of seven top officials to accompany the younger Kim as he followed the hearse containing his father’s body at his state funeral.
A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry told reporters that Ri Yong-Ho’s departure was “very unusual”.
Some analysts say ”illness” is not an uncommon pretext in Pyongyang when a member of the elite leadership is removed.
Now in power for six months, Kim Jong-Un is rumored to be promoting a new generation of officials, and is being carefully watched for signs that he will take the country in a new direction.
Following talks with the US, North Korea has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, as well as nuclear and long-range missile tests.
The US State Department said Pyongyang had also agreed to allow UN inspectors to monitor its reactor in Yongbyon to verify compliance with the measures.
In return, the US is finalizing 240,000 tons of food aid for the North.
The move comes two months after Kim Jong-Un came to power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il.
The move could pave the way for the resumption of six-party disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang, which last broke down in 2009.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US still had “profound concerns” over North Korea, but welcomed the move as a “first step”.
“On the occasion of Kim Jong-Il’s death, I said that it is our hope that the new leadership will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by living up to its obligations.
“Today’s announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction.”
Hillary Clinton said the US would however be watching Pyongyang closely, and would be “judging North Korea’s new leaders by their actions”.
North Korea agreed to nuclear moratorium two months after Kim Jong-Un came to power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il
North Korea confirmed the move in a foreign ministry statement released in Pyongyang.
The statement, carried by the KCNA news agency, said the measures were “aimed at building confidence for the improvement of relations” between the two countries, and said talks would continue.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the announcement was “an important step forward” and that inspectors stood ready to return to North Korea, Reuters reports.
Earlier, a senior US military official said the issue of food aid for North Korea was now linked to political progress – contradicting earlier policy.
North Korean population has suffered persistent food shortages since a famine in the 1990’s, and relies on foreign aid to feed its people.
The country agreed in 2005 to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and political concessions, as part of a six-nation dialogue process involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan.
But progress on the deal was stop-start, and the agreement broke down in 2009.
Contact between the US and North Korea aimed at restarting the talks began in July 2011.
A meeting last week between US and North Korean officials in Beijing was the third round of talks aimed at exploring how to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.