DPRK’s missile-maker seen as key player in new regime

By Raju Gopalakrishnan ,Reuters

SINGAPORE — During the funeral ceremonies for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il this week, the man in charge of the isolated state’s missile program and possibly its nuclear plans, paid a quiet visit to the mausoleum where the body lay in state. Little is known about elderly and silver-haired Ju Kyu Chang, but he appears to be a key member of the North Korean team developing nuclear weapons. The European Union has named the 73-year-old, who is believed to have trained as a metal alloy specialist and studied in Russia, as one of the individual North Koreans to attract sanctions slapped on the rogue communist state. He was given two important posts in the regime in recent years, which analysts say were part of Kim Jong Il’s moves after he suffered a stroke to set a succession plan in place and ensure safe custody of the nuclear weapons. “I would equate Ju with General Leslie Groves, who headed the U.S. Manhattan Project that produced atomic bombs during World War II,” said Larry Niksch, who has tracked North Korea for the non-partisan U.S. Congressional Research Service for 43 years. “Ju runs the day-to-day programs to develop missiles and probably nuclear weapons.”

Ju was ranked 20th on the list of the national funeral committee for Kim Jong Il, an indicator of his stature. Just above him in 19th position was Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of new leader Kim Jong Un and the man seen as the power behind the throne. According to the European Union, Ju had oversight of the two tests of North Korea’s intermediate-range Taepodong-2 ballistic missiles in 2006 and 2009. Less is known about his connection to the development of nuclear weapons. But the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a 2009 report on North Korea that Ju “is believed to be in charge of the nuclear weapons development program.” It said Ju’s 2009 promotion to the National Defense Commission (NDC), the supreme leadership council, was probably linked to a move to put him in charge of an independent entity with custody of North Korea’s nuclear bombs when they were developed. Daniel Pinkston, one of the authors of the ICG report, told Reuters there was no information on whether the new “command and control” body for nuclear weapons had been set up. But he said of Ju: “He is close to the regime leadership because of his political loyalty to the Kim family and the party, in addition to his technical expertise regarding the SLV (space launch vehicle) and satellite programs and the nuclear weapons program.”