South Korea: North Korea executes vice premier in latest purge

North Korea has executed its vice premier for education and rebuked two high-ranking officials, South Korea said on Wednesday, which, if true, would mark a new series of measures by leader Kim Jong Un to discipline top aides.

Kim took power in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, and his consolidation of power has included purges and executions of top officials.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said the government had confirmed the execution of the education official, Kim Yong Jin, “through various channels” but declined to provide details. The execution, by firing squad, apparently took place in July.

Additionally, Kim Yong Chol, the influential head of the North’s United Front Department which handles inter-Korean relations, was made to undergo “revolutionary measures,” Jeong told a briefing. Kim Yong Chol was re-educated at a rural farm for a month until mid-August, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said. Kim Yong Chol, an Army general, headed the North Korean intelligence agency before taking his current position this year.

Another ruling party official in the propaganda department was also reprimanded, Jeong said.

The South’s comments follow a news report on Tuesday that the North had executed two high-ranking officials for disobeying leader Kim Jong Un.

It is difficult to independently verify news about top officials in the North or the inner circle around the leader. Some previous reports of executions and purges in the reclusive state have proven inaccurate.

North Korea rarely announces purges or executions, although state media confirmed the 2012 execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, widely considered the country’s second most powerful man, for factionalism and crimes damaging to the economy.

[Reuters]

Kim Jong-un still purging traces of his uncle’s influence

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is still struggling to wipe out the network of businesses and influence established by his uncle Jang Song-taek, whom he executed in December 2013.

A source last week said Kim is especially allergic to facilities with names like “Haedanghwa” or “Daedonggang,” which were commonly used by businesses Jang controlled.

In June this year, Kim was touring the Haedanghwa kimchi factory in Pyongyang when he suddenly became angry and ordered the name to be changed to Ryugyong.

A landmark mall in the capital called Haedanghwa, a pet project of Jang’s, has also been renamed.

In April, Kim ordered the demolition of a folklore park in Pyongyang, another pet project of Jang’s that opened in 2012. The following month Kim ordered officials to delete all images of the park in various publications.

Kim is also said to complain frequently of the vast influence Jang had in North Korea.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Rights Group builds legal case against Pyongyang abusers

A human rights group is beginning to build the case for the eventual prosecution of Kim Jong Un and other North Korean leaders for crimes against humanity by detailing information about thousands of individuals who have been sent to political prison camps.

The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) has published a list of political prison detainees, staff and victims of enforced disappearance, including names, dates of incarceration, alleged crimes and the locations of camps still in operation.

“By providing specific information on individual perpetrators we can show them that they are responsible for their actions in the event of an opening up in North Korea,” said Kim In-sung, a researcher at NKDB.

The catalogue was based on surveys and interviews with more than 1,000 North Korean defectors. It is intended to provide further evidence to support the 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry investigative report documenting a network of political prison camps in the country and widespread atrocities, comparable to what the Nazis did before and during World War II.

[VoA]

Portrayal of defections reflect the state of relations between North and South Korea

This year we have learned that a growing number of North Korean diplomats and other North Koreans working for the regime overseas are defecting from their posts.

Information about defections usually comes primarily, if not entirely, from South Korea, which means that country sets the tone for how important the case is.

Under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father died in 2012, around 1,400 North Koreans renounce their citizenship and wind up in South Korea each year.

North Korea watchers tend to focus less on these “general population” defections, and more on defections by key North Korean officials who work abroad.

Some analysts say the South Korean government plays up or plays down defections depending on the state of relations between the two countries. continued

[NPR]

The timing of key defections announced by South Korea during the past year

This month the second-highest official in North Korea’s London embassy defected, to great fanfare.

Yang Moojin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, says in the past, South Korea’s government has sometimes chosen not to announce even “higher-profile” defections if they came at a moment when South Korea was trying to avoid friction with the North.

But this year, relations are rockier and South Korea is trying to put pressure on the North for its rocket and nuclear tests. It also happens that South Korea has been emphasizing North Korean defections.

Back in April, South Korea shared news of the mass defection of more than a dozen North Korean restaurant workers from their post in China. The timing played into the narrative as a new round of sanctions, described by the U.S. as the “toughest in decades,” had just gone into effect.

Then came the announcement that a colonel from North Korea’s spy agency had defected in the fall of 2015. But there was no explanation as to why South Korea hadn’t announced the defection when it happened, which was months earlier. Instead, the South Korean announcement of the colonel’s defection came just days before a legislative election in which President Park Geun-hye’s ruling party faced possible losses.

And scattered throughout the South Korean news this year have been reports with unnamed government officials telling the media that “key” North Koreans abroad have disappeared and absconded with money.

Both things can be true at the same time: North Korean defections are taking place with some regularity, and the South is using the defections to promote their political aims.

[NPR]

Quite a number of North Korean diplomats have recently defected

Something curious is happening to North Korean officials abroad. A growing number of diplomats and other North Koreans working for the regime overseas are defecting from their posts.

Thae Yong Ho is probably not the only one in North Korea’s broadly defined diplomatic orbit to disappear from his post this year. The South Korean newspaper Joongang Daily, citing anonymous sources in South Korean intelligence, puts the number of diplomatic defections at as high as seven. More conservative estimates say it’s probably more like three.

“There’s a diplomat that works in Africa. Another fellow in Asia, somewhere in Southeast Asia. And then there’s Thae Yong Ho,” says Michael Madden, a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute who tracks changes in North Korean personnel at North Korea Leadership Watch. “Those are the three that I know have vacated their posts. The other two [besides Thae], it’s never been clear where they have gone.”

The South Korean government said Friday that it’s seen a “series” of senior defections.

Jeong Joon-hee, a Unification Ministry spokesman, told a press briefing that these defections are believed to be “the result of Kim moving to consolidate his power and growing internal insecurity.” Jeong added, “We’re concerned that North Korea could make more provocative acts as it takes steps to prevent further defections.”

[NPR]

After elite defections, Kim Jong Un orders executions

Thae Yong Ho, the senior North Korean diplomat who defected from his embassy in London, was a member of North Korea’s hallowed elite.

Thae’s father was an anti-Japanese guerrilla who fought alongside North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, according to South Korean news service Edaily.

Thae’s older brother Thae Hyong Chol is a member of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee and president of the country’s prestigious Kim Il Sung University, according to the report.

So Kim Jong Un has reportedly ordered the elimination — possibly by execution — of agents that fail to stop high-profile elite North Koreans from defecting. A source on North Korea told Yonhap the North Korean leader had ordered security agents to “immediately remove the causal factors for escaped and missing persons,” adding, “those not meeting their target will be promptly eliminated.”

[UPI]

North Korean math whiz defector now in South Korea

The North Korean defector who sought refuge in Hong Kong last month left the city for South Korea about a week ago. A source told the South China Morning Post that the youth, identified as Jong Yol-ri, was accompanied by staff from the South Korean consulate and the Hong Kong government to the city’s airport where he boarded a flight for Seoul about a week ago. “It was a night flight,” the source said.

According to YTN, 18-year-old Jong – who defected while in Hong Kong to attend a math competition – intends to further his studies outside South Korea. The Post was told the student was likely to settle in the United States after a couple of months.

Jong, a two-time silver medalist who had just picked up a third at this year’s math contest, was staying at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where the annual Olympiad was held, before he left his five teammates and fled.

The South Korean consulate, where Jong sought refuge after sneaking away from the 57th International Mathematical Olympiad on July 16, did not respond to the Post’s inquiries.

Jong is the first known North Korean to defect in Hong Kong since the city’s handover to China in 1997. Security around the South Korean Consulate was visibly stepped up after he sought refuge there. It was understood that uniformed and plainclothes officers from the counter-terrorism unit were deployed there.

Steve Chung Lok-wai, an ­expert in Korean affairs at Chinese University, said the defector’s departure was likely to have been ­endorsed by the Beijing ­government.

[South China Morning Post]

Kim Jong Un: The US “operational theater in the Pacific” within North Korea’s “striking range”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un considers Wednesday’s test firing of a submarine-based ballistic missile the “greatest success and victory,” the country’s state-run news agency reported.

“He (Kim Jong Un) noted with pride that the results of the test-fire proved in actuality that the DPRK joined the front rank of the military powers fully equipped with nuclear attack capability,” the Korean Central News Agency said Thursday.

North Korea’s launch took place in the waters off Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province.  Amid the annual joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea, which kicked off on Monday, KNCA quoted Kim as saying the US mainland and its “operational theater in the Pacific” are now within North Korea’s “striking range.”

He warned the US and South Korea to refrain from “hurting the dignity and security of North Korea” if it wants to avoid deadly strikes.

The South Korean military said earlier that North Korea fired a missile that flew 500 kilometers before falling into the waters of Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea. This was the first time a North Korean missile entered Japan’s air defense identification zone, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

[CNN]

North Korean fishermen defect

Three North Korean fishermen have defected to South Korea after going adrift in the West Sea in a wooden boat on August 7, the Unification Ministry said Tuesday.

The fisherman told investigators they had gone out to sea to fish but drifted south due to engine trouble. One was the captain of the boat and the two others are crew.

“Once the boat started drifting south they decided to defect,” a security official said. “Their life was getting more difficult because the North is selling fishing rights to Chinese trawlermen.”

The fishermen are now at a facility run by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service in Gyeonggi Province.

[Chosun Ilbo]