North Korea ‘executed 15 senior officials’

South Korea spy agency says officials were accused of challenging Kim Jon Un authority

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (2nd right) inspecting a newly built Wonsan Baby Home and Orphanage in Wonsan in Kangwon province. Since taking over North Korea’s leadership after the death of his father Kim Jong Il in 2011, Kim has removed key members of the old guard through a series of purges. Photograph: KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (2nd right) inspecting a newly built Wonsan Baby Home and Orphanage in Wonsan in Kangwon province. Since taking over North Korea’s leadership after the death of his father Kim Jong Il in 2011, Kim has removed key members of the old guard through a series of purges. Photograph: KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

 

South Korea’s spy agency says that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of 15 senior officials this year who were accused of challenging his authority.

Politician Shin Kyoung Min said National Intelligence Service chief Lee Byoung Ho also told legislators in a closed-door briefing that Kim appeared likely to visit Russia next month to attend the 70th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

Shin said Lee did not reveal how the intelligence agency obtained the information.

Since taking over North Korea’s leadership after the death of his father Kim Jong Il in 2011, Kim has removed key members of the old guard through a series of purges.

The process was highlighted by the 2013 execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, for alleged treason. Jang was married to Kim Jong Il’s sister and was once considered the second most powerful man in North Korea.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said the purges underline Kim Jong Un’s inexperience as a young dictator who is struggling to find effective ways to control his regime.

Lee told politicians that a North Korean official with a rank comparable to a vice cabinet minister in the South was executed in January for questioning Kim’s policies on forestation, Shin said.

He said another North Korean official of similar rank was executed in February for resisting Kim’s plans to construct a new building in the shape of a flower named after his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, Shin said.

Shin said the agency also believes that North Korea used a firing squad in March to execute four senior members of Pyongyang’s famous Unhasu Orchestra on charges of espionage which Lee did not detail.

The South Korean spy agency has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea. Information trickling out of the highly secretive state is often difficult to confirm.

In an intelligence success, the agency correctly said that Jang had probably been dismissed from his posts before North Korea officially announced his arrest.

However, it received heavy criticism when its director acknowledged that it had ignored intelligence indicating North Korea’s impending shelling of a South Korean island in 2010.

It also came under fire because of reports that it first learned of the 2011 death of then leader Kim Jong Il more than two days after it occurred when state media announced it to the world.