June 09, 2010 10:05
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is apparently conducting another purge of senior officials to cement his hold on power, the latest in a series of such maneuvers since he came to power in the 1990s.
Some 100 senior officials were ousted in the latest purge, including Pak Nam-gi, the director of the Workers Party's Planning and Finance Department, who was executed by firing squad over the botched currency reform late last year. That was Kim's fifth massive purge.
A South Korean security official said, "Kim Jong-il used to keep tight control over senior officials by taking advantage of their fear of purges, but there seems to have been some unusually strong opposition this time."
In October 1992, Kim purged some 20 military officers who had studied in the Soviet Union for criticizing the regime and sacked 300 other such officers from active service, experts say.
Won Ung-hui, the chief of the Security Bureau of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces, who played a leading role in the purge, was promoted by two ranks from major general to full general.
Kim Jong-il was inaugurated as supreme commander in December 1991, when he sacked a number of officers with a Soviet background in efforts to gain control of the military.
In April 1995, some time after his father Kim Il-sung died in July 1994, the so-called "purge of the Sixth Army Corps" took place. Some experts speculate that officers of the corps stationed in North Hamgyong Province conspired to stage a coup, but according to a North Korean source, it is widely believed that some 20 people including the political commissar of the corps, a secretary of the party's North Hamgyong provincial committee and a trading firm president had embezzled funds earmarked for the regime and rebelled against senior officers in the chain of command.
Kim Jong-il detected suspicious movements in the corps and instructed Gen. Kim Yong-chun, the current minister of the people's armed forces, to execute them. Rumor had it that hundreds of soldiers were executed. Kim Yong-chun became chief of the general staff of the Army in October 1995 for his role.
The most significant purge took place during the so-called "march to hardship" in 1997, during which about 1 million people starved to death. At the time, Kim Jong-il publicly executed So Kwan-hui, then party secretary in charge of agricultural affairs, in Pyongyang, branding him a "spy of the U.S. imperialists" and blaming him for the famine. Some 2,000 people were purged then on charges of espionage during the Korean War.
But public sentiment still deteriorated as tens of thousands of people including the families of those executed fell victim to the spy case, and Kim in 2000 purged dozens of senior officials who had investigated the case on charges of "alienating the party from the masses and playing into the enemy's hands."
In 2004, Kim Jong-il dismissed his brother-in-law, the first vice director of the party's Organization Department Jang Song-taek, and subordinates who appeared to be getting too powerful. In 2006, Kim fired premier Pak Pong-ju, who had introduced a modicum of the market economy.
Early this year, when public sentiment was at its worst in the aftermath of the bungled currency reform, Kim had Pak Nam-gi, a 40-year-long close aide, shot. This seemed to signal the beginning of another purge.
A North Korean source said, "The North is saying that people live in poverty due to senior officials' corruption." But the atmosphere in the North is quite different from the past. "North Koreans now know what real problems are. Senior officials ask what they have done wrong, and people ask what the point of the purge is," the source added.
Prof. Cho Young-ki of Korea University said there is "a possibility of another 'bloody purge' in the succession process."
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