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US-sanctioned official named new North Korea head of state

AFP  |  Seoul 

has replaced its long-serving nominal of state with a who was placed on a US sanctions list last year for alleged human rights abuses, said Friday.

Nam, who held the position for almost 20 years, was replaced by Choe Ryong Hae, who will take over the role of representing at international engagements, KCNA said.

The reshuffle, formalised during a session of Pyongyang's rubber-stamp parliament, the (SPA), comes at a time of heightened diplomatic activity that has seen hold landmark summits with the leaders of the US, and

As SPA president, Choe is technically of state, although real power in is wielded by Kim and his immediate family.

Analysts say his appointment by Kim suggests a generational shift in the North's leadership, especially after the collapse of the summit in February.

Born in 1950, Choe is considered Kim Jong Un's right-hand man -- frequently referred to as the regime's "virtual number two official".

In the 1980s, he led the North's youth delegations on goodwill visits to a number of countries, including Russia, and China, before being promoted to the party's powerful in 2017.

Some reports have even suggested that one of Choe's sons is married to Kim Jong Un's powerful sister,

He is also one of the three North Korean officials sanctioned by the US last year over human rights abuse allegations.

Choe directs the North's "departments that perpetrate the regime's brutal state-sponsored censorship activities, human rights violations and abuses," said in a statement in December.

Analysts said, however, the existing sanctions against Choe will have little impact on his future diplomatic endeavours, as long as its nuclear dialogue with the US continues.

"Chol, the North's top nuclear negotiator, also has been sanctioned by since 2010," Ahn Chan-il, the of the for North Korea Studies in Seoul, told AFP.

"But he visited without a problem earlier this year. will always make exceptions -- as long as has something to offer."

On top of being elected as the nominal of state, Choe was also appointed as first of (SAC), the North's highest decision making body -- a position that was newly created after the North recently revised its Constitution.

Cheong Seong-chang, an at the in Seoul, said this will allow Choe to work with the North's key diplomats.

These include Ri Yong Ho, Vice and Pyongyang's top Chol who were all also promoted to SAC members this week.

"Kim Yong Nam, while serving as the former of state, never got to have any roles in the SAC," Cheong told AFP.

"But Choe's position as the of SAC -- on top of the of state -- gives him much more authority as he gets to lead a group of elite officials in charge of Pyongyang's diplomacy.

"The fact that these key diplomats became members of SAC signals Pyongyang's willingness for further diplomatic engagement with other countries." Externally, however, has been stressing the importance of "self reliance" after talks on denuclearisation with Washington broke down in in February.

Sanctions relief was top of Kim Jong Un's agenda for the summit, but the meeting broke up without a statement as North Korea and the US disagreed over walking back Pyongyang's nuclear programme in exchange for relaxing trade restrictions.

Kim earlier this week insisted Pyongyang would overcome the effect of sanctions by developing the socialist economy, telling party officials to push ahead with "self-reliance", KCNA said.

Pyongyang is "trying to undermine sanctions without agreeing to the current denuclearisation demand from Washington, while also improving its diplomatic strategies," Ahn said.

"I believe the North is coming up with very dramatic economic reforms to survive the sanctions. needed someone younger and even more ruthless." As expected, KCNA also reported that Kim has been re-elected as of the North's

He was given a new title, described by the as "of all the Korean people.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, April 12 2019. 12:50 IST