Six men appear to climb ranks in regime
A senior South Korean intelligence source told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that six people were critical in influencing Kim to dismiss and subsequently execute his uncle. A handful of senior intelligence officials in the military and leaders of the Workers’ Party emerged as the prime initiators of Jang’s dramatic downfall over recent weeks.
“The meeting of security personnel of the [North] Korean People’s Army in Pyongyang last month, attended by Kim, was the prelude to Jang’s purge,” said the intelligence source.
North Korean media covered the meeting, devoting the entire front and second pages of the Rodong Sinmun’s Nov. 21 issue to it. The meeting, hosted at the April 25 House of Culture on Nov. 20, was the second of its kind. The first meeting took place in 1993.
The reports stated that Kim had emphasized the importance of strengthening the military’s security operations, but the North did not elaborate further. The meeting of the military intelligence officials was hosted abruptly for the first time in two decades, and the intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States paid special attention to possible changes in the North Korean leadership.
North Korea specialists in the National Intelligence Service concluded that the meeting took place shortly after Jang and his confidantes were purged. In a briefing to the National Assembly on Dec. 3, the South Korean spy agency reported that Jang’s two closest aides, Ri Ryong-ha and Jang Su-kil, were publicly executed in late November. South Korean intelligence officials believe the young Kim received an oath of fealty from the top military intelligence officials at the Nov. 20 meeting in Pyongyang following the purges.
There, the six key men sat next to Kim on the leadership podium. The young ruler sat in the middle, with three men on his left and three on his right. Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the Korean People’s Army Politburo, sat to the right of Kim. Choe was considered one of two guardians to Kim, along with Jang.
Gen. Kim Won-hong, head of the Ministry of State Security, the highest North Korean intelligence authority, and Lt. Gen. of the Korean People’s Army Ryom Chol-song sat in the next seats. Left of Kim sat Lt. Gen. Jo Kyong-chol; Maj. Gen. Kim Su-gil; and Hwang Pyong-so, deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department of the Workers’ Party, in charge of military appointments and organization.
According to North Korean news reports, Choe gave the opening remarks, and Jo gave a briefing to the North Korean leader.
Ryom made a conspicuous contribution to the Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday, asking Kim to allow the military to be in charge of punishing Jang and his faction for their wrongdoings. As he proposed, Jang was executed the following day after a special court martial. The court martial was also hosted by the Ministry of State Security, led by Kim Won-hong.
Following the meeting of the security personnel of the North Korean military on Nov. 20, Kim visited Samjiyon near Mount Paektu. Although the North said the trip was to inspect the winter sports facilities and military units, South Korean intelligence officials believe Kim discussed follow-up measures for Jang’s case at a special retreat there.
Photos of Kim’s trip to Samjiyon show that Kim Won-hong and Hwang Pyong-so accompanied him with other top Workers’ Party officials.
Kim Yang-gon, a secretary of the Central Committee and head of the United Front Department of the North’s ruling party, was also seen in the photos. Han Kwang-sang, director of the party’s Finance and Accounting Department, and deputy directors Pak Tae-song, Kim Byong-ho and Ma Won-chun, also accompanied Kim, indicating that they have risen to power under the young leader’s rule.
South Korean intelligence officials concluded that the six men highlighted at the meeting of North Korean military security personnel and the officials who participated in the Samjiyon trip will be the core of the new elite group following Jang’s death.
The military officials are expected to lead efforts to ensure regime security and protect Kim’s safety, while the men from the Samjiyon trip will be expected to calm public sentiment in the aftermath of Jang’s execution.
“Choe Ryong-hae and Kim Won-hong are the overlapping members of the two groups,” said the intelligence source. “They will be the two highest and most powerful backers of Kim Jong-un’s leadership in the post-Jang Song-thaek era.
BY LEE YOUNG-JONG, SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]