North Korea executes leader's uncle

2013-12-13 08:17
Jang Song Thaek. (KCNA, AFP)

Jang Song Thaek. (KCNA, AFP)

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Pyongyang - North Korea said on Friday that it had executed Kim Jong Un's uncle as a traitor for trying to seize supreme power, a stunning end for the leader's former mentor, long considered the country's No 2.

In a sharp reversal of the popular image of Jang Song Thaek as a kindly uncle guiding leader Kim Jong Un as he consolidated power, the North's official Korean Central News Agency indicated that Jang instead saw the death of Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011 as an opportunity to challenge his nephew and win power.

Jang had been tried and executed, North Korea said, for "attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state". It called him a "traitor to the nation for all ages" and "worse than a dog".

Some analysts see the public pillorying of such a senior official, and one related to the leader, as a sign of Kim Jong Un coming into his own.

But others see signs of dangerous instability and a rare acknowledgement that behind the scenes, Kim Jong Un's rise has not been as smooth as previously thought.

The unusually detailed announcement came only days after North Korea said it had "eliminated" Jang from all his posts.

Instability

Despite the strong language and allegations in the announcement on Monday of Jang's fall, there had been no sign in North Korean media of an imminent execution.

Kim Jong Un has overseen other high-profile purges since taking over after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, two years ago. But none of the purges have been as public, or as close to home as the downfall of Jang.

Analysts say Kim Jong Un has acted swiftly and ruthlessly to bolster his own power and show strength, but there are fears in Seoul that the removal of Jang and his followers could lead to instability, a miscalculation or even attack on the South.

Jang had been seen by outsiders as the leading supporter of Chinese-style economic reforms and an important link between Pyongyang and Beijing.

In Seoul, top presidential security and government ministers began an unscheduled meeting on Friday to discuss Jang's execution and its aftermath, according to the presidential Blue House.

During his two years in power, Kim Jong Un has overseen nuclear and missile tests, other high-profile purges and a barrage of threats this spring, including vows of nuclear strikes against Washington and Seoul.

 His father, Kim Jong Il, took a much lower public profile when he rose to power after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994.

Not just one person

Although the high-level purges could indicate confidence, Victor Cha, a former senior White House adviser on Asia, said he sees signs of "a lot of churn in the system".

"If he has to go as high as purging and then executing Jang, it tells you that everything's not normal in the system", said Cha, an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.

"When you take out Jang, you're not taking out just one person, you're taking out scores if not hundreds of other people in the system. It's got to have some ripple effect."

North Korea has recently turned to attempts at diplomacy with South Korea and the US. But tensions have remained high since Pyongyang's threats in March and April. Those included warnings that it would restart nuclear bomb fuel production.

There was no immediate word about the fate of Jang's wife, Kim Kyong Hui, the younger sister of Kim Jong Il, although some analysts believe that because she is directly related to the nation's founder and has been reportedly ill, she may be spared Jang's fate. She was also seen as an important mentor to Kim Jong Un after her brother's 2011 death.

The White House said it could not independently confirm reports of Jang's execution, but has "no reason to doubt" the report from KCNA.

- AP

Read more on:    kim jong un  |  kim jong il  |  north korea
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