Background of a Pyongyang elite comes to surface
According to family members, the late Hwang Pil-gu, a native of Gochang, North Jeolla, voluntarily crossed the border to live in North Korea before the 1950-53 Korean War, later returning as a Communist spy. He was arrested in 1959 and later took his own life in 1985, while serving his term in Daejeon prison.
When his relatives visited him in prison, he told them that he had left behind three children in the North: his eldest son Pyong-sun; a daughter, Hee-suk; and a younger son, Pyong-so, they quoted him as saying.
Shortly after his capture in South Korea in 1959, he also told his family that his youngest son was 10 years old at the time. Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, the director of the General Political Bureau of the Army, was born in 1949.
“I was told from time to time that Pyong-so, the son of uncle Pil-gu, was a high-ranking official in the North,” the third cousin of Hwang Pil-gu, now 84, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “When we watched Pyong-so on TV during the Asian Games, we agreed that he has the facial structure of our family.”
General Hwang visited the South on Oct. 4 as a member of a high-profile delegation from Pyongyang to attend the closing ceremony of the Incheon Asian Games.
“I have seen the eldest son and the daughter when I was young because they were born in the South, but I never saw Pyong-so because he was born in North Korea,” he continued.
Another third cousin of the late prisoner said Hwang Pil-gu’s nephew still resides in the South. “I was told from him that Hwang Pyong-so was Hwang Pil-gu’s son,” he said.
Based on relatives’ testimonies, Hwang Pil-gu’s nephew, now 65, is the son of the late Communist’s younger sister, which would make him a cousin to Hwang Pyong-so.
“I cannot confirm whether Hwang Pil-gu is the father of Hwang Pyong-so or not,” the supposed cousin of Hwang Pyong-so said. “If the relationship is made public, wouldn’t it seriously damage Pyong-so?”
In North Korea, Hwang Pyong-so ascended quickly in Pyongyang’s powerful inner circle after Kim Jong-un took power. Last year, he most frequently accompanied Kim to 130 events. He is the vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission and known as a key confident of Kim along with Choe Ryong-hae, the Workers’ Party Central Committee secretary. While Choe is the son of Choe Hyon, a former armed forces minister and a partisan comrade of Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of the current ruler and the founder of the North, little was previously known about Hwang’s family background.
Hwang Pil-gu, who is alleged to be the father of Hwang Pyong-so, was born in Gochang, North Jeolla, in 1916. After studying law in Japan, he moved to North Korea and worked as a prosecutor. After the Korean War, he was dispatched to the South as a spy and later arrested.
However, he never gave up his Communist principles while he was imprisoned in Daejeon and after 26 years committed suicide in December 1985. His grave is located in his hometown of Gochang. But in North Korea, he has gained respect. “The North uses unswerving Communist prisoners in propaganda surrounding its ideology and system,” said Oh Gyeong-seob, a researcher at the Sejong Institute. “Their families also receive special treatment.”
These hard-core Communists served decades in South Korea’s prisons. In 2000, a group of 63 prisoners were repatriated to North Korea, though some have remained in the South since completing their sentences.
BY JANG DAE-SUK, CHUNG YEONG-GYO [firstname.lastname@example.org]