North Korea yesterday said it had executed the uncle of leader Kim Jong-un, branding veteran fixer Jang Song-thaek a “traitor for all ages,” as the US and South Korea voiced concern at the shock purge.
In a stunning downfall, Jang — who had been seen as Kim’s political regent and the country’s unofficial No. 2 — was executed on Thursday immediately after a special military trial, state news agency KCNA said.
In a viciously worded attack it said Jang committed such a “hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.”
The report portrayed Jang as decadent and corrupt, “stretching his tentacles” into every area of national affairs. In a rare admission of economic strife, it also blamed him for the failings of the hungry and impoverished nation.
Jang, 67, played a key role in cementing the leadership of the inexperienced Kim when he succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011, but analysts said his power and influence had become increasingly resented.
State media showed a stooped and handcuffed Jang being led away from the military trial, flanked by two officers, one of whom had a hand on the back of his neck.
“If confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime,” US Department of State deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, adding that Washington was following developments closely.
South Korea expressed “deep concerns” over the developments and said it would prepare for “all possibilities in the future” and coordinate closely with its allies.
“The North usually curbs internal instability by waging provocations externally,” South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said, warning the purge could be followed by military responses, including another nuclear test.
China — the North’s sole major ally — said Jang’s execution was an internal matter, but also emphasized the need for stability.
“As a neighbor, we hope to see national stability, economic development and people living in happiness in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea],” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said.
Three generations of the Kim family have ruled the North for six decades with an iron fist, regularly purging those showing the slightest sign of dissent. Most are executed or sent to prison camps, but the nation has not seen such a high-level execution for decades.
The regime accused Jang of betraying the trust of both Kim Jong-un and his father — saying he had received “deeper trust” from the younger leader in particular.
Jang was also accused of slighting the young leader — not applauding him enthusiastically enough at party meetings and blocking the construction of a mosaic in his honor at a tile factory.
Deriding Jang as “despicable human scum... worse than a dog,” the KCNA report said he had attempted to stand in the way of Kim Jong-un’s succession and then targeted him with a planned coup.
Pyongyang confirmed earlier this week that Jang, who was married to Kim Jong-il’s sister, had been stripped of all posts, and branded him as a drug-using womanizer who squandered millions in state funds at foreign casinos.
During the court hearing, Jang reportedly confessed he attempted to stage a coup by mobilizing his associates in the military.
While the KCNA report said Jang was executed on Thursday, a report by a Hong Kong newspaper said he was killed last week.
The Chinesese-language Apple Daily yesterday quoted the newspaper Wenwei Po (文匯報) as saying that Jang was eaten by dogs on Thursday last week.
The report said that Jang and five others were stripped naked and locked inside a fenced-off area together with 120 dogs that had not been fed for three days. It said the whole event, which was over in one hour, was witnessed by Kim Jong-un, his wife, Ri Sol-ju, and more than 300 other high officials.
Additional reporting by staff writer