Kim Jong Un has reportedly fired North Korea’s top three military generals in what appears to be an attempt to quash dissent ahead of a summit with Donald Trump.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency says all three have been replaced ahead of the 12 June summit in Singapore, the first meeting between sitting leaders of the US and North Korea.
Analysts say the move, which sees Mr Kim take a tighter rein on the Korean People’s Army (KPA), could support efforts to jump-start economic development and engage with the world.
Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at CNA, said: “If Kim Jong Un is set on making peace with the US and South Korea and dealing away at least part of the nuclear programme, he will have to put the KPA’s influence in a box and keep it there.
“This reshuffle has brought to the fore the officers who can do just that. They are loyal to Kim Jong Un and no one else.”
Mr Trump revived the Singapore summit on Friday after cancelling it a week earlier.
Two anonymous US officials told the Washington Post the Trump administration is “seeking a discreet way” to pay Mr Kim’s hotel bill ahead of the meeting.
The US paper also suggested Singapore might take care of the cost.
Mr Trump may not be the only leader to meet Mr Kim, with reports that Russian president Vladimir Putin may also set up a meeting later in the year.
The RIA news agency said the two leaders could meet in the Russian far eastern city of Vladivostok in September, citing diplomatic sources.
At the US-North Korea summit, Pyongyang’s denuclearisation will be high on the agenda, with reports Mr Kim’s reshuffle is a sign he is prepared to tame the military.
The KPA is highly influential in the North and a centre of power in its own right.
Mr Kim is always seen flanked by its generals on one side and civilians on the other when he attends major ceremonial events.
The reshuffle could be aimed at preventing objections to any sudden changes in the country’s nuclear policy.
North Korea’s state media revealed in late May that Kim Su Gil has replaced Kim Jong Gak as the director of the military’s powerful General Political Bureau (GPB).
The chief of general staff Ri Myong Su has been replaced by his deputy Ri Yong Gil, according to Yonhap, which cited intelligence sources.
Defence minister Pak Yong Sik has been succeeded by former first vice minster No Kwang Chol.
Seoul’s unification ministry has said the three firings would be unusual if confirmed.
Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters: “We will monitor related developments.”
The change at the top of the GPB “represents a continuation of tightening party control over the KPA”, according to researchers at NK Leadership Watch.
They added that the GPB could be influential enough to resist leadership policy decisions and try to profit from future South Korean economic aid.
But its new director Kim Su Gil is said to be a “highly trusted” lieutenant of leader Mr Kim.
No Kwang Chol, the new defence minister, is known as a “moderate”, Yonhap cited the intelligence source as saying.
The source added: “The North appears to have brought in new figures, as the previous officials lacked flexibility in thinking.”