North Korea has dismissed its minister of state security, a key aide to the reclusive state’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, South Korea said on Friday, in what a high-profile defector said would be another sign of a “crack in the elite” in Pyongyang if true.
Kim Won Hong was removed from office as head of the feared “bowibu”, or secret police, in mid-January apparently on charges of corruption, abuse of power and human rights abuses, Jeong Joon-hee, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman, said, confirming media reports.
“There is always a possibility that purges continue as part of constantly strengthening power,” Jeong told a briefing, adding punishment for Kim could be more severe depending on the outcome of the investigation, but he had been dismissed and demoted from the rank of general to major general.
Kim Jong Un became leader in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, and his consolidation of power has included purges and executions of top officials.
Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to London who has defected to the South, told Reuters he was not surprised by the news. “I cannot confirm if the reports are true or not, but this kind of power struggle is quite normal in North Korean history. Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un’s style of control is always one of collective surveillance that checks the power of each organization.
“Kim Jong Un has killed too many high officials and there are a lot of complaints and dissent amongst the high elite because of it. If the demotion of Kim Won Hong is really true, then that’s another sign of a crack in the North Korean elite group.”