SEOUL : North Korea named the four-star general appointed to the vacant post of defence minister on Saturday, three months after his predecessor was reportedly executed.

The country’s KCNA news agency referred to General Pak Yong-sik as ‘head of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces’, the country’s defence minister equivalent, in a report on military talks held with the government of Laos. Pak has appeared in numerous state media reports in recent weeks as part of the entourage of leader Kim Jong-Un, fuelling speculation he was to take the position.

The defence minister is thought to rank the second or third highest in the country’s military hierarchy, South Korea’s Yonhap agency said. Pak was promoted to major general in the North’s army in 1999, according to Yonhap, rising to become a four-star general in May. It is the first time the North has confirmed that a replacement has been chosen after the purging of the previous defence minister , Hyon Yong-chol, in April.

South Korea’s spy agency initially said Hyon was removed for disloyalty and dozing off during official events presided over by Kim. But doubts later surfaced over his reported execution when the National Intelligence Service clarified that it had been unable to verify he had been put to death. An opposition MP said at the time it was ‘odd’ that North Korean state TV had continued to show recorded footage featuring the defence minister even after he had supposedly been purged. The North’s state-run media typically deletes all past mentions of purged officials and air-brushes them from any TV footage.