North Korea’s Kim Jong-un Dismisses Powerful Uncle

It is not the first time rumors have surfaced that Jang Sung-taek was sacked by North Korea’s ruling Kim family.

North Korean official Jang Sung-taek exits a car in Beijing, China, August 17, 2012
North Korean official Jang Sung-taek exits a car in Beijing, China, August 17, 2012 (Reuters/China Daily)

Two South Korean lawmakers said on Tuesday that North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong-un, had dismissed his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, a man who was widely seen as the power behind the throne of the authoritarian communist regime.

Two members of the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee told separate news briefings that close aides to Jang in the North’s ruling Workers’ Party had been executed for corruption.

Jang, who is married to Kim Jong-un’s aunt, Kyong-hui, herself a high party official, was previously purged in 2004 when his father Kim Jong-il ruled the country. But he reappeared at the leader’s side two years later, suggesting that he had been reinstated. He became vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, the body Kim Jong-il used to rule the country, a year before the leader’s death in 2011.

His most recent ouster follows the departure of Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho in July last year who, like Jang, was seen as belonging to a triumvirate of senior officials that was instrumental in helping the young Kim consolidate power.

That leaves Choe Ryong-hae, Kim’s third guardian, as his closest confidant. He was promoted to vice marshal after Ri’s resignation despite his lack of military experience which could have been an indication that the ruling party had wrestled control from the army that was dominant during Kim Jong-il’s dictatorship.

A longtime party apparatchik, Choe now oversees the military and remains a member of the executive body of the Politburo, the four man presidium that also includes Kim. Jang has been a Politburo member since 2010.

Without confirmation of Jang’s fate from North Korea’s KCNA news agency, the primary source of information on the impoverished country for outsiders, it is all the more difficult to tell exactly what is happening the behind the scenes of the secretive regime in Pyongyang. South Korean media previously reported that Jang had fallen out of the ruling Kim family’s favor only for him to resurface as a key powerbroker.