A recent photograph of North Korea’s leader and his military entourage is stirring speculation that Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Taek, may have a new role.
In a country where the smallest details involving public appearances by North Korea’s leader are choreographed, a uniform change for a key insider is drawing notice. The vice chairman of the national defense commission, Jang Song Taek, has switched his military uniform from light to dark brown. (See front row, 2nd from left) All of the other top brass seen during a ceremony Sunday to mark the country’s 64th anniversary were clad in light brown.
The Chosun Ilbo newspaper in South Korea, quoting an intelligence official, says this means Jang, a four-star general who is the uncle of the new, young leader, Kim Jong Un, is now in charge of the most elite bodyguard unit. Analysts say the unit, which is linked to the army but not under its control, has tens of thousands of elite personnel, including intelligence operatives, with control over anti-artillery batteries, missiles, combat tanks and armored limousines. It would also be tasked with fending off any internal coup attempts.
Putting the man in the dark brown uniform in charge would further cement family ties between the elite unit’s leadership and the Kim dynasty. Jang is married to the daughter of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung.
Sixty-six year-old Kim Kyong Hui herself is also a four-star general – the first woman in North Korea to hold that rank – and seen in recent photographs looking comparatively frail. Elite defectors from the North frequently describe the only sister of the late Kim Jong Il as a powerful influence not only over her husband, but her nephew, as well. They say she has a reputation for being ill-mannered and struggling with alcoholism.
An analyst says based on Jang’s recent meeting with top officials in China and being among those to greet a religious delegation last week from South Korea, he can now be regarded as the second-in-command in Pyongyang controlling affairs of state.
Kim Jong Un, who is not yet 30 years of age, is regarded to have firmly secured his grip on power after succeeding his father who died at the age of 69 last December.