February 06, 2017 12:25
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sacked the chief of his secret services amid ongoing power struggles in the reclusive country.
The Unification Ministry on Friday said the North's State Security Minister Kim Won-hong was dismissed in mid-January on charges of corruption and abuse of power. He was demoted from a four-star to a one-star general.
Several vice ministers appear to have been executed. Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said Kim is still under "intense" investigation.
Kim Jong-un unprecedentedly admitted "shortcomings" as a leader in his New Year's address last month. This appears to have been a prod to other officials to make similar confessions, which could be used to justify a widespread purge.
Choe Kyong-hui, a researcher at Hanyang University and North Korean defector, said, "Since Kim Jong-un rose to power, the Workers Party, military and cabinet have all experienced purges, but the state security apparatus had been left untouched. As Kim marks his sixth year in power, he seems to be turning to secret service and law enforcement agencies to complete his overhaul of the system."
Other pundits say the sacking of Kim Won-hong is a precursor to a nationwide purge. In his New Year's address, Kim ordered the mobilization of all North Koreans, which could mean not only press-ganging ordinary people into major construction projects but also a purge of officials who fail to meet deadlines or cut corners.
The North Korean elite is already on edge, and they are likely to get more jittery. One source said one director in the Workers Party died during interrogation by the State Security Ministry even though he had been praised by Kim Jong-un for his good work. "There is a chance of an intensifying power struggle as senior party officials seek to settle vendettas," the source added.
Kim has carried out several brutal purges since he came to power in late 2011 to strengthen his grip among entrenched privilege.
The Institute for National Security Strategy here said in a recent white paper that the North Korean regime has executed 340 officials and ordinary people, including Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-taek, who had arrogated most of the trade with China to himself.
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