Washington, May 2 (ANI): North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Il has started shifting power away from the communist party apparatus, in order to strengthen the authority of his country's military, veteran watchers of the Stalinist regime have said.
The 67-year-old Kim, who appeared frail at a gathering of the Supreme People's Assembly on April 9, has wielded ultimate power in his country since 1994, but is now said to be making his first serious moves to establish a clear line of succession.
The April gathering was his first public appearance before a large audience since the stroke he is believed to have suffered last August, FOX News reports.
The shifts likely explain the exceptionally bellicose nature even by North Korean standards of the regime's behavior in the period since last August.
Among the most significant of the recent changes is an increase in power and numbers of personnel in the National Defense Commission (NDC), the nation's top military organ.
For example, oversight of the Operations Department, which employs an estimated 2,000 espionage agents, has been transferred from the Workers Party to the NDC. This move was made in tandem with Kim's elevation of General O Kuk Ryol, a longtime intimate of his, to vice chairman of the NDC.
As well, the NDC has taken over the Pyongyang No.3 building, the headquarters of the party's research and external liaison departments.
Commenting on the changes, Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo says, General O "has in effect emerged as the No. 2 man in charge of North Korea's supreme power next to Kim Jong Il."
The assessment of Korea's Joongang Ilbo daily is that NDC's "power has been expanded to become the de facto general administration."
Bruce Bechtol, a professor at the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College at Quantico, told FOX News the changes signal whom Kim trusts, with a regime change on the horizon.
Analysts caution it would be a mistake to infer from these developments that Kim is grooming O as his successor.
Bechtol suggested Kim is placing great authority in O and Chang to serve as a mentor for Kim Jong Un, or one of the other sons, who may emerge as Kim Jong Il's ultimate successor.
Rodger Baker of Stratfor Global Intelligence, an Austin-based think tank and consulting firm, sees the changes as a reaction by Kim to his own illness. (ANI)