May 14, 2015 09:34
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continued a bloody purge of top political and military officials with the public execution of Army chief Hyon Yong-chol.
North Korea watchers believe Kim has embarked on a reign of terror to consolidate his grip on power by removing officials who became too powerful in the early days of his rule.
The most prominent case was his uncle, former eminence grise Jang Song-taek, who was hauled before a kangaroo court in 2013 and executed immediately afterwards.
The National Intelligence Service on Wednesday said it believes Kim ordered the execution of Hyon by anti-aircraft gun on April 30 as hundreds watched at a military academy in northern Pyongyang.
Hyon was promoted to the rank of vice marshal in 2012.
The NIS said Hyon was charged with treason for dozing off while Kim was giving a speech at a military rally on April 24-25, talking behind the young leader's back, failing to follow orders and complaining about the orders he was given.
There is speculation that Hyon's execution was related to Kim's canceled trip to Moscow to festivities marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory in World War II.
Hyon visited Russia last month for talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to prepare for Kim's visit. There is a possibility that Hyon either failed to accomplish his mission or reported false information to Kim.
An NIS official said the information was gathered through "diverse channels" and that it was "highly likely" Hyon was executed by FLAK gun. But the official added, "Hyon can still be spotted in archived footage and North Korean authorities have yet to make an official announcement, so it's not 100 percent certain."
The NIS said that several other key officials were purged over the past six months, including Ma Won-chun, the director of a new agency under the National Defense Commission overseeing the construction industry, Pyon In-son, a vice minister of the People's Armed Forces, and central party finance and accounting cadre Han Kwang-sang.
An NIS official said around 70 high-ranking officials have been executed since Kim Jong-un came to power in April 2012. "His reign of terror is intensifying as discontent spreads among key officials about his rule," the official added.
The intelligence service estimated that Kim executed three people in 2012, 30 in 2013, 31 in 2014 and eight so far this year.
Even his father Kim Jong-il executed only around a dozen officials in the initial four years of his rule.
But the NIS believes that Kim Jong-un still maintains a solid grip on power as fear rather than discontent dominates the minds of top officials.
Intelligence officials apparently briefed President Park Geun-hye on the latest information during a security meeting on Tuesday.
North Korea watchers feel the purges could be effective over the short term. One intelligence official said, "The loyalty of party members may weaken, but there is a strong chance that officials will choose to follow him rather than show any signs of dissent."
But experts forecast that this style of leadership would inevitably lead to pent-up frustration and anger over the long term and fundamentally weaken Kim's leadership.
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