A state funeral in North Korea has sparked another fresh round of purge rumors after one of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s most powerful aides was omitted from the official funeral committee list.
Marshal Ri Ul-sol, who died of lung cancer over the weekend, is to be given a state funeral tomorrow, and the list of 170 names published on Sunday — headed by Kim — is an official who’s who of the top political and military hierarchy.
However, a notable absentee is Choe Ryong-hae, a member of the ruling party’s politburo standing committee and seen as one of Kim’s closest confidantes.
Even if unwell, Choe would normally be on the list and experts said the omission of someone of his stature could not be explained by an oversight.
“It’s almost impossible that this happened, unless Choe ... was removed from key positions,” said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank in Seoul.
“I suspect that Choe might have been involved in serious trouble, such as a major corruption scandal or defamation,” Cheong said.
The South Korean Ministry of Unification, which handles affairs related to North Korea, also noted the omission in a regular media briefing yesterday.
“We certainly view it as unusual, given past precedent,” ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said.
Choe was also absent on Sunday when Kim paid tribute at Ri’s wake along with several senior military cadres, according to footage from North Korean state TV.
Choe was seen as Kim’s most trusted envoy, and was chosen to take a personal message to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in 2013.
He visited Beijing again very recently, in September, as North Korea’s representative at China’s giant World War II victory anniversary parade.
He was mentioned by state media as recently as Oct. 31, when he made a statement about a ruling party congress to be held next year.
Rumors of political purges and executions regularly swirl around the isolated North — only to be rebutted when the official or officials in question resurface with their posts secure.
Kim has been ruthless in eliminating even the highest-ranking officials whose loyalty might have been brought into question.
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