Top N.Korean Apparatchik 'Purging Rivals'

  • By Lee Yong-soo, Kim Myong-song

    November 21, 2017 13:11

    Top North Korean apparatchik Choe Ryong-hae has been put in charge of a clean-out of the Army politburo, where he is apparently purging rivals.

    The National Intelligence Service here believes that Choe, a comeback kid, who is now vice chairman of the Workers Party's Central Committee, punished Army politburo heavyweights Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Won-hong.

    From left, Choe Ryong-hae, Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Won-hong

    NIS officers told lawmakers here on Monday that Choe is conducting a massive purge of the bureau, which he himself headed until he was sent to a "re-education camp" three years ago.

    The Army politburo, which is one of several competing top agencies in the North, is suspected of an "irreverent attitude" towards the party. The cleanout is billed as an "inspection," the first of the agency in 20 years.

    Ascendancy in the secretive regime can only be gleaned from the meticulous order of seniority in which the state media recite their names. And at a rally on Oct. 8 marking the 20th anniversary of late leader Kim Jong-il becoming general secretary, state media called the names of senior officials in attendance in the order of Kim Yong-nam, the perpetual nominal head of state, Choe, Pak Pong-ju, and Hwang Pyong-so.

    Hwang had been named before Choe in the pecking order until then but has vanished from public view since Oct. 13. Pundits believe that Choe was sent away in 2015 because Hwang and Kim Won-hong were conspiring against him, and now he is getting his revenge.

    While Choe was being "re-educated" at a collective farm, Hwang was promoted to Army politburo chief. But Choe is now believed to have clawed back his way to being the real power behind Kim Jong-un's throne.

    The game of musical chairs is apparently part of a longer game by Kim Jong-un, who is trying to wrest power away from the military, which had grown into a state within the state under Kim Jong-il's disastrous "military-first" doctrine.

    Prof. Nam Sung-wook of Korea University said, "Kim seems to be using Choe to weaken the power of the military."

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