There has apparently been a power struggle between the military and new leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim has come out on top.
North Korea has announced the removal of its military chief, a key advisor to leader Kim Jong Un.
In a surprise radio announcement Monday, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho has been removed from all this posts because of illness.
The radio announcer said the decision was made by the Workers' Party central committee political bureau and included the removal of Ri from the presidium of the politburo, considered North Korea's most powerful body.
Ri became head of North Korea's army three years ago.
The terse announcement caught officials and analysts in South Korea by surprise. They note Pyongyang rarely removes top figures for health reasons.
Kim Hyung-suk is a spokesman for the Unification Ministry in Seoul, which oversees North-South relations.
Kim terms it as "very unusual" the announcement was broadcast less than a day after Ri was removed from his posts. He says South Korea's government has no more to say at this point and it is closely monitoring the situation for further information.
Analyst Chon Hyun-joon, a senior researcher at Seoul's state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification, contends that even if the 70-year-old Ri is actually ill, he would not have been dismissed from all of his positions.
Chon says there is no doubt Ri, a hardliner, lost a power struggle with moderates. The analyst says this denotes a collapse of one of the supports for the military - the other axis being the political chief of the army.
Chon predicts the change will allow Kim Jong Un to proceed with a more flexible diplomatic policy.
The term "hardliner" is relative in that loony bin. Sort of like "moderate Islamist." Still, if Marshall Ri were hell bent on going to war and there was opposition from the "moderates," then it is a good thing he is gone.