North Korea is purging officials who had been close to Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle of leader North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who was executed earlier this month, a South Korean minister said yesterday.
Jang, once the North’s unofficial No. 2 and Kim’s political mentor, was executed on Dec. 12 following an array of charges, including treason and corruption.
The shock purge — staged in an unusually dramatic and public fashion in the isolated communist state — was the biggest political upheaval since the young ruler took power after the death of his father and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il two years ago.
Seoul’s spy chief earlier this month said that two of Jang’s associates had also been executed, while Pyongyang has reportedly recalled some diplomats or trade officials overseas who were believed to have been close to the former Pyongyang power broker.
“We are seeing signs that those who were deeply involved with Jang are being recalled and purged,” South Korean Minister of Unification Ryoo Kihl-jae told lawmakers.
The purge appears to be targeting a relatively small circle of officials, Ryoo said, rejecting speculation of a sweeping clear-out of party and military ranks.
“We do not see that it [the purge] is being carried out on a large scale, though it still needs to be seen to what direction it would develop,” he told members of the South Korean Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Yonhap news agency on Saturday said the North’s ambassador to Sweden, Pak Kwang-chol, and his wife had been summoned to Pyongyang.
Pak, who took the post in Sweden in late last year, was seen at Beijing Capital International Airport being escorted by North Korean officials before taking a flight to Pyongyang on Saturday, it said, quoting a diplomatic source in China.
The agency said earlier this month that Jang’s nephew and the North’s ambassador to Malaysia, Jang Yong-chol, had also been recalled.
Jang Song-thaek is believed to have played a key role in cementing Kim Jong-un’s leadership.
However, the 67-year-old’s growing political power and influence was increasingly resented by the young leader barely half his age, analysts say.