Uncle of Kim Jong-un disappears after ousting
South Korean intelligence says Jang Song-thaek fired, two aides executed in North Korea
Jang Song-thaek (circled) has been a key figure in handling relations with Pyongyang’s only significant ally, China. Photograph: Reuters
Citing sources in the South Korean intelligence service, they said Mr Jang (67) has not been seen publicly since November 6th, which could be a sign he has been ousted from his position as vice-chairman of the North’s top military body.
Tensions between the two Koreas have been running high since North Korea defied the international community and staged a third nuclear test in February.
The UN responded with sanctions and the US and its ally South Korea staged military exercises, to which Pyongyang responded with threats to attack military targets in the South, in Japan and even as far away as the US.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) made the assessment based on information provided by multiple sources, according to the Yonhap news agency. However, verifying these reports is difficult, and the South Korean intelligence agency has been wrong before.
Mr Jang is viewed as a reforming influence and a key figure in handling relations with Pyongyang’s only significant ally, China. He travelled to China to discuss setting up possible economic zones. Over the years his roles have included deputy chairman of the National Defence Commission and membership of the politburo of the ruling Workers’ Party.
There were earlier reports that Mr Jang had been purged before, in 2004, but he seems to have bounced back. He is married to Mr Kim’s aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, who is the younger sister of the late Kim Jong-il.
He played a big role in helping Mr Kim consolidate power after his father’s death in December 2011. He walked alongside the younger Kim accompanying the late “Dear Leader’s” body through Pyongyang, and has made regular appearances at Mr Kim’s side in public.
The news was reported by parliamentarians Jung Chung-rae and Cho Wonjin, who had no details on how the information was gathered, although they said the spy agency reported that North Korean authorities were investigating corruption allegations involving Mr Jang’s aides.
“The briefing by an NIS senior official was that they believe Jang Song-thaek has lost his posts,” said Mr Jung, who is the most senior member of the opposition on the intelligence committee. “Following [the executions], the NIS said it believes Jang Song-thaek has not been seen and has lost his posts.”
The significance of his disappearance depends on why he has vanished. If he has gone for medical reasons, then it is unlikely to signal any major changes in the power structure. However, if he was ousted for political reasons or because of conflicts with the military, that would be a much more serious development.