A changing of the bodyguards for Kim Jong-un

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A changing of the bodyguards for Kim Jong-un

North Korea has replaced the bodyguards of leader Kim Jong-un with ruling party officials, a South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday, raising speculation that the power of the communist regime is apparently shifting to the party away from the military.

So far, members of the military have worked in the so-called general guard bureau, which is responsible for protecting the leadership.

In the past, these well-trained soldiers, indoctrinated with juche (self-reliance) propaganda and accompanying the dear leader have exerted influence over North Korean politics.

The South Korean official, who is working in foreign affairs and national security, told the JoongAng Ilbo that the government “analyzed information on [current affairs in] North Korea” and “assumes that the replacements were made before Kim Jong-il’s death.”

The official said that it could have relevance to North Korea’s recent power transition from the military to the ruling party, under the rule of new leader Kim.

Otherwise, the official added that the regime is trying to protect the young leader against a possible military coup by replacing the military guards.

Another source familiar with North Korean affairs told the JoongAng Ilbo that the regime “could be conscious of the powerful military bodyguards” or “trying to prevent the military from protesting the current power transition into the ruling party.”

A military source also said that it could be related to the resignation of Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, a former chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, who suddenly stepped down in mid-July.

“At the centennial anniversary of founding leader Kim Il Sung’s birth on April 15, Ri dispatched two divisions of bodyguards by himself without authorization [from Kim Jong-un] and he was criticized because of that.”

However, when it came to allegations that uncle Jang Song-thaek dominated the general guard bureau, the South Korean government official denied it.

“There’s no reason that powerful Jang should dominate the bodyguard bureau, which has lost most of its roles and privileges [by the ruling party].”

Meanwhile, a high-ranking official at the Ministry of National Defense reportedly said recently that “it seems that the North Korean regime is dying.”

“Currently, the official North Korean currency is 100 [North Korean] won to $1, but on the black market, it surpasses 6,000 [North Korean] won,” the official reportedly said.

“It’s a matter of time before we witness the collapse of the regime unless Kim Jong-un improves the sluggish economy and the impoverished livelihood of people, caused by accumulated economic problems and the failure of the currency reform.”

By Chang Se-jeong [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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