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North Korean Military Leader Ousted, Could Mark New Start with West

Ed Jones/AFP/GettyImages(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- The dismissal of North Korea's military chief might herald smoother relations with the West or it could just be that leader Kim Jong Un is consolidating power.

Either way, Korea's official Korean Central News Agency announced on Monday that Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho was relieved of his duties because of an undisclosed illness.

That means that Ri will no longer have the ear of Kim or preside over the politburo, Pyongyang's most powerful political body.

He was appointed to take charge of the North Korean Army when Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, still ruled the country.

Observers in South Korea speculate that even if Ri was ill, he probably wouldn't have lost his job.  They believe the vice marshal lost a power struggle with moderates in the military and that could signal Kim might be ready to open more diplomatic channels with the U.S. and other nations eager to see North Korea suspend its nuclear ambitions.

However, Kim has sounded more warlike in public during the past few months as worries grow that North Korea might launch a third underground atomic test in defiance of the West.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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