[WORLD] It Appear Kim Jong Un is Reshuffling North Korea’s Power Structure

D-Bo, Dec. 4, 2013, 12:53 p.m.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is swiftly revamping the power structure of the regime, replacing about half of the top cadres in the Workers Party, government and military in the year and 10 months since he took power.

According to the Unification Ministry, Kim has replaced 97 of 218 party heads, government ministers and senior military officers since his father Kim Jong-il died in December 2001.  He has been especially active replacing top brass including the Army chief, the minister of the People's Armed Forces, and the chief of the General Staff's Operations Bureau. The only senior member of the old guard left in place is Choe Ryong-hae, the chief of the military Politburo.

But some 44 percent of military commanders have also been ousted, replacing elderly officers from Kim Jong-il's time to younger officers in their 50s.  Kim Jong-un has even purged the guardians his father put in charge of smoothing his path to power. A case in point was Ri Yong-ho (71), the former Army chief, who was suddenly removed from all his posts in July 2012. As the top military leader, Ri had played a key role in helping Kim junior to stabilize his rule after his father’s death.

Appointed as Army chief in February 2009 and vice chairman of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission in 2010, Ri was one of eight men who escorted Kim Jong-il's hearse.  Ri's ouster was seen as an attempt by Kim junior to break Army control of a vast array of businesses that had accumulated under Kim senior's "military first" doctrine.

In quick succession, Kim also fired Kim Yong-hun and Kim Jong-gak as ministers of the People's Armed Forces. U Dong-chuk (71), the first deputy director of the State Security Department, is also believed to have been purged. He has not been seen in public since March last year.

Reports say the established elite is getting restive. "Many members of the North Korean elite feel discontented and alienated, saying Kim Jong-il treated the first generation of revolutionaries well after his own father Kim Il-sung died," a source said. "But in just two years since he took power, Kim Jong-un is kicking out respected elders." 

And now Kim is said to have ousted his uncle and guardian Jang Song-taek, who was widely seen as the regime’s real power.  Reports show that Jang has been relieved of his post and stripped of all his power. 

Two of Jang's closest confidants, Ri Yong-ha and Jang Soo-kil, were publicly executed for activities damaging the Workers Party in late November  and there is a "strong possibility" that Jang Song-taek was sacked, the official said.

The source added North Korea is taking "follow-up measures" against officials linked to agencies and organizations Jang had headed. "The purge is continuing and the scope is difficult to predict," the official said. 

South Korean intelligence officials believe the administrative division of the Workers Party, which was headed by Jang, has also been disabled or dismantled.

Jang rose to power after the death of former leader Kim Jong-il in December 2011, taking key posts in the party, the National Defense Commission, and other organizations.  The husband of Kim Jong-il's sister Kim Kyong-hui, he was widely seen as the puppet master behind new and untested leader Kim Jong-un. If Jang was sacked, it would be the latest move in what appears to be an attempt by Kim junior to cement his grip on power and get rid of the old guard.

Kim Yong-hyun at Dongguk University said Jang's sacking was a "strategic move to complete Kim's control."   Other experts said Jang's ouster may have been the result of a power struggle with Politburo chief Choe Ryong-hae or between the party and the military, which could lead to political instability. 

Lim Eul-chul at Kyungnam University said the sacking of a figure as senior as Jang signifies a "breakdown in power" and the North Korean leader could find him in a "difficult situation." 

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