Kim Jong-un’s guards bringing out the big guns

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Kim Jong-un’s guards bringing out the big guns

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, who visited an outdoor ice skating rink earlier this month, is shown being guarded by a soldier holding a rifle in a photo released by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. It is considered unusual for the leader to have a heavily-armed guard. [YONHAP]


Pyongyang appears to be strengthening its protection for the young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, dispatching bodyguards armed with automatic rifles at public occasions, a South Korean government source told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The security guards are typically clad in combat helmets and bullet-proof vests, according to the source, as they guard the entrance or perimeter of a public venue. A photo released by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Nov. 5 shows Kim visiting an outdoor ice skating rink, accompanied by ruling Workers’ Party and military officials. Behind them, a group of guards hold rifles.

“We frequently have seen photos where Kim is surrounded not only by his own personal bodyguards who were supposed to be always with him, but also by some additional forces,” a South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “It’s unusual that those kinds of forces appear at the leader’s visit to even a private facility, not just a military base or a suburb city.”

Sources also told the JoongAng Ilbo that they assume those armored guards might work for the Guard Command under the Workers’ Party, which is in charge of safety of Kim and his family. However, their role is a bit different from Kim’s personal bodyguards.

While Kim’s personal guards only carry handguns and escort him everywhere, these armored guards are in charge of security at public events only.

Those event guards were also seen at late leader Kim Jong-il’s funeral last year, guarding the hearse carrying the leader’s casket. When some wailing mourners tried to block the hearse on the street, they jumped off their jeeps and immediately dispersed them.

Ri Yong-guk, a North Korean defector who worked at the Guard Command and who wrote an essay titled “I was a bodyguard of Kim Jong-il,” said, “these armored guards are not supposed to be seen in public.”

By Lee Young-jong [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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