North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is swiftly revamping the power structure of the regime, replacing about half of the top cadres in the Workers Party, government and military in the year and 10 months since he took power.
According to the Unification Ministry, Kim has replaced 97 of 218 party heads, government ministers and senior military officers since his father Kim Jong-il died in December 2001.
He has been especially active replacing top brass including the Army chief, the minister of the People's Armed Forces, and the chief of the General Staff's Operations Bureau. The only senior member of the old guard left in place is Choe Ryong-hae, the chief of the military Politburo.
But some 44 percent of military commanders have also been ousted, replacing elderly officers from Kim Jong-il's time to younger officers in their 50s.
Kim Jong-un has even purged the guardians his father put in charge of smoothing his path to power. A case in point was Ri Yong-ho (71), the former Army chief, who was suddenly removed from all his posts in July 2012. As the top military leader, Ri had played a key role in helping Kim junior to stabilize his rule after his father’s death.
Appointed as Army chief in February 2009 and vice chairman of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission in 2010, Ri was one of eight men who escorted Kim Jong-il's hearse.
Ri's ouster was seen as an attempt by Kim junior to break Army control of a vast array of businesses that had accumulated under Kim senior's "military first" doctrine.
In quick succession, Kim also fired Kim Yong-hun and Kim Jong-gak as ministers of the People's Armed Forces. U Dong-chuk (71), the first deputy director of the State Security Department, is also believed to have been purged. He has not been seen in public since March last year.
And now Kim is said to have ousted his uncle and guardian Jang Song-taek, who was widely seen as the regime’s eminence grise.
Reports say the established elite is getting restive. "Many members of the North Korean elite feel discontented and alienated, saying Kim Jong-il treated the first generation of revolutionaries well after his own father Kim Il-sung died," a source said. "But in just two years since he took power, Kim Jong-un is kicking out respected elders."