Pyongyang still purging Jang’s supporters, gov’t official says

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Pyongyang still purging Jang’s supporters, gov’t official says

North Korea is actively working toward eliminating all the supporters of Jang Song-thaek, the once powerful uncle of leader Kim Jong-un, and did not cease those activities even through the Lunar New Year, according to a South Korean government source.

The official said on Monday that Pyongyang, following Jang’s execution on Dec. 12, has continued to remove all traces of his influence.

The regime “continued to investigate Jang’s relatives and followers over the Lunar New Year holiday,” the source added.

While South Korea celebrated the Lunar New Year from Thursday until Sunday, the North only celebrated on Friday, the actual holiday.

But even in the midst of one of Korea’s biggest celebrations, the North’s state security department and other public safety offices appeared to have continued their mission of erasing Jang from the history books.

The official said that even employees from North Korean restaurants in China and other countries run by the administrative division of the Korean Workers’ Party, which Jang headed, were “investigated for at least a week before being released.”

These purging efforts are expected to last until June, he said.

Key figures around Jang, excluding his wife, are apparently being investigated and categorized across four levels.

Level one, the highest degree of investigation, may include the immediate family of Jang’s key aides, Ri Ryong-ha and Jang Su-gil, who were executed in late November.

Including Jang’s family and relatives, there might be about 100 people who fall into this category.

“There have been rumors that they have been executed, but this has not been confirmed yet,” the source added. “It seems that some have been detained in a camp for political prisoners.”

Some media reports claimed that members of Jang’s immediate family, including his sons and grandsons, and other relatives have been executed, along with his political supporters.

Kim Kyong-hui, Jang’s widow and the paternal aunt of Kim Jong-un, has not been seen in public in recent months and is reported to be gravely ill or even dead.

Hyun Hak-bong, the North Korean ambassador to the United Kingdom, told Britain’s Sky News in a rare interview in English last week that Jang went “beyond the red line,” prompting his execution.

The ambassador said that in addition to antigovernment crimes, Jang hindered the efforts of the national economy and misappropriated public funds, which included spending $6.2 million (6.7 billion won) in 2009 alone.

He added that Jang was “shot to death.”

However, Hyun did not respond to a question regarding reports of the execution of Jang’s family, stating that he did not know “whether [Jang’s] family was punished.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will run for a seat in the country’s rubber stamp parliament next month, marking the first Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) polls under his leadership - a move which analysts speculate may further consolidate his power after the purge of his uncle.

The Korean Central News Agency said yesterday that Kim was nominated as a candidate for the 13th SPA and is expected receive full support from military officials.

Analysts say that the regime may use the elections as an opportunity to oust or eliminate supporters of Jang.

Elections are held every five years - the last one was in 2009 - and this is Kim’s first nomination. His father, the late Kim Jong-il, ran uncontested in past elections.

Pyongyang officially announced last month that the Presidium of the SPA decided to hold an election of deputies to the 13th assembly on March 9.


BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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