The North Korean regime continues to purge associates of former eminence grise Jang Song-taek, who was executed in early December, but now they are being purged quietly in the provinces while Pyongyang puts on a show of solemn unity marking two years since former leader Kim Jong-il's death.
The celebrations got underway in mid-December, and since then the propaganda tone has shifted from hysterical denunciations of Jang and his clique to trumpeting current leader Kim Jong-un's purported achievements.
◆ Quiet Execution
"Kim Jong-un is quietly sending Jang's cronies to the provinces and executing them there," claimed Ahn Chan-il of the World Institute for North Korea Studies. "Railroad stations in Pyongyang are teeming as the military herds people associated with Jang onto trains to provincial regions" like Hwasong, North Hamgyong Province.
Ahn said the regime is evidently going about the purge more clandestinely after Jang's trial by kangaroo court and brutal execution drew condemnation worldwide and created a climate of fear and uncertainty at home.
He speculated that the regime is trying to finish the purge by April, when the Supreme People's Assembly convenes, replacing Jang's associates in the party, the military and the Cabinet with a new set of officials who are likely to define the Kim Jong-un era.
The purge targets a broad range of people associated with Jang, from anyone who had their picture taken with him to officials who owed him their promotions. Jang's hometown and power base in the Hamgyong provinces is coming in for a particularly thorough sweep.
A source said a senior official in South Hamgyong Province was purged last Thursday because he owed his position to family ties with Jang.
Several administrative chiefs in North Hamgyong Province and in the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone were summoned to Pyongyang early December and a handful of them have already been purged, some of them reportedly being put through a rigorous course of self-criticism.
Among other crimes the military tribunal accused Jang of was running the zone like his own fiefdom and selling a 50-year concession there "to another country," most likely China.
Jang's cronies in Ryanggang Province and Sinuiju in North Pyongan Province have also been arrested and purged.
Free North Korea Radio quoted a source in Ryanggang Province as saying, "Senior officials in Ryanggang Province were arrested last Wednesday but not told why."
In the border town of Sinuiju, security forces are under orders to report anybody suspected of preparing an escape to China, where Jang's associates are likely to be headed.
◆ Sole Leadership
Kim Jong-un in a meeting with senior party, government and military officials on June 19 reportedly demanded a "unitary" leadership for party and military.
He highlighted the party's 10 founding principles, which were revised for the first time in 39 years this year to cement the rule of the Kim dynasty, and called for a struggle against factionalism, double-dealing, and treachery, another source said.
Reports say officials loyal to Jang habitually privileged Jang's orders over Kim's, sometimes to the young leader's face. The Yomiuri Shimbun speculated the purge was triggered about a month ago, when two senior officials close to Jang did not follow Kim's order immediately but instead told him they would have to check it with his uncle.