July 16th, 2012
10:09 PM ET

Change in North Korea

The man who oversaw one of the world's biggest armies is out. Less clear is who takes over Ri Yong Ho's position as North Korea's powerful army chief.

And more importantly, what does it mean?

Ri's sudden dismissal caught North Korea watchers by surprise. He has frequently been by Kim Jong Un's side since the young leader took over following his father's death in December 2011.

In fact, they walked opposite each other during Kim Jong Il's funeral procession.

KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

They appeared together as recently as last week. There was no sign of disagreement, or the "illness" that forced Ri's removal.

And here they are on April 13 at a ceremony for Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. Ri is on the left.

AFP/Getty Images

There are several theories about Ri's unceremonious departure. Some analysts see it as a power struggle between the military and civilian elite. Others feel Kim's influential uncle, Jang Song Taek, may have wanted to get rid of Ri.

It has also been said that Ri may be taking the fall for some high-profile failings, including the embarrassing rocket launch attempted in April.

Whatever the reason, Ri's departure comes amid other notable changes in North Korea. Kim Jong Un has made multiple public appearances with a "mystery woman" by his side.

Disney characters have appeared on stage in Pyongyang. Kim has addressed his nation for a second time.

These moves mark a clear break with North Korea's past. But their implications for the nation's future are still coming into focus.

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Filed under: General • North Korea
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