New Powerful Troika Emerges in N.Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's first official engagement on Thursday since the ouster of his uncle Jang Song-taek suggested that there is now a powerful new troika behind the throne.

During his visit to an army institute, Kim was accompanied by military Politburo chief Choe Ryong-hae, armed forces minister Jang Jong-nam, and Hwang Pyong-so, a deputy director in charge of the military in the Workers Party's Organization and Guidance Department.

There had been speculation that Choe, the top official in the military, could also be ousted in the wake of Jang's execution, but his position seems secure.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) inspects an army institute in Pyongyang on Saturday. /Rodong Sinmun North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) inspects an army institute in Pyongyang on Saturday. /Rodong Sinmun

Jang Jong-nam's presence is more worrying since he is former commander of the 1st Army Corps in the frontline area of Kangwon Province. He is known as a hardliner aligned with former army chief Kim Kyok-sik who supervised the North's sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

At a loyalty rally held in December of last year, Jang Jong-nam said, "We're waiting for the supreme commander to give the order to charge." He was unexpectedly chosen as the new minister in May this year.

But it is the younger Hwang who is the most interesting figure. On Nov. 30, he accompanied Kim Jong-un on a visit to the revolutionary battlefield of Samjiyon, where Kim Il-sung's guerrillas fought against Japan. Hwang is believed to have played a considerable role in the process of purging Jang.

Prof. Cho Young-ki of Korea University said, "Choe Ryong-hae and Jang Jong-nam will back up the still vulnerable Kim Jong-un regime for the time being, but a new elite of officials in their 50s including Hwang will assist Kim at close range."

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 16, 2013 12:36 KST