Power schism in Pyongyang pits insiders versus outsiders

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Power schism in Pyongyang pits insiders versus outsiders

A power struggle has erupted within North Korea’s elite, a Washington-based media outlet reported Tuesday.

A report by Radio Free Asia said that the struggle is between North Korean officials who have led careers inside the country and officials of the foreign ministry or others who were stationed overseas.

Radio Free Asia, a private, nonprofit corporation started by the U.S. government, quoted a source in North Korea as saying that the power landscape in Pyongyang had been shaped by the battle for power between the so-called domestic group and overseas group.

The source said state security agents and members of the ruling Workers’ Party’s central committee - part of the domestic group - have put party and military officials with ties to overseas businesses under surveillance.

Speculation of internal power struggles in the North has abounded as leader Kim Jong-un carried out a reign of terror by purging and executing senior officials. The execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek in 2013, who was considered Kim’s political guardian and mentor, raised questions over whether the young leader would continue to enforce his grip on power through bloody purges.

Analysts say Kim has cemented control of national affairs through frequent reshuffles of key personnel, sometimes coupled with executions.

Kim Yang-gon, the North’s point man for dealing with South Korea, may have been a victim of the war between the domestic and overseas groups. Kim was allegedly killed in a car accident on Dec. 29. Radio Free Asia quoted another North Korean source as saying he may have fallen out with the domestic group over the country’s fourth nuclear test, which was undertaken Jan. 6.

Kim was seen as a veteran diplomatic negotiator with in-depth experience and knowledge of inter-Korean relations and international affairs. He was one of only a handful of North Korean officials who visited South Korea multiple times.

Sinister forces were suspected in his death, especially since a number of senior North Korean officials have died in car accidents over the past decade.

Kim Yong-sun, the director of the United Front Department of the ruling Workers’ Party, reportedly died in a car accident in October 2003; while Ri Je-gang, the senior deputy director of the Organization Guidance Department, met a similar fate in June 2010.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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