North Korea execution raises risk of ‘reckless provocations’

South Korean president says death of Kim Jong Un’s uncle renders political situation ‘unclear’

North Korean People’s Army soldiers take part in a rally at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to swear allegiance to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of the second anniversary of the death of his father and former leader Kim Jong Il. Photograph: KCNA/Reuters.

North Korean People’s Army soldiers take part in a rally at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to swear allegiance to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of the second anniversary of the death of his father and former leader Kim Jong Il. Photograph: KCNA/Reuters.

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s execution of his uncle and de facto deputy raises the risk of “reckless provocations” from the north, South Korean president Park Geun Hye said.

The purge of Jang Song Thaek, the highest-profile ousting since Mr Kim took power two years ago, has prompted the South to heighten its combat preparedness along the border with North Korea, where thousands of troops face off across a no-man’s land.

“Recent developments render future directions of North Korea’s political situation unclear,” Ms Park told her aides today, according to a statement on the website of her office. South Korea is in “a situation where unexpected events like reckless provocations can’t be ruled out,” she said.

North Korea raised tensions in February by detonating its third nuclear device and has periodically carried out military operations that have fueled the risk of war.

In March 2010, a South Korean warship sank in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors in what the South called a North Korean torpedo attack. The North denies the charge.

Later that year the north bombarded a front-line South Korean island, killing four people. North Korea’s military is currently conducting annual winter drills and showing no unusual activities, South Korean defence ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said at a briefing earlier today.

Mr Jang was executed immediately after a military court convicted him of plotting a coup against his nephew, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Friday.

The son-in-law of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, Mr Jang was promoted to four-star general and vice chairman of the National Defence Commission months before Mr Kim took over the North after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011.

“It really reminded me of a video that we saw of Saddam Hussein doing the same thing, having people plucked out of an audience, and people sitting there sweating and nobody daring to move or do anything,” US secretary of state John Kerry said yesterday on ABC’s This Week.

“To have a nuclear weapon, potentially, in the hands of somebody like Kim Jong Un just becomes even more unacceptable.”

The purge comes two years after the death of Mr Kim’s father, and memorial celebrations beginning at midnight will be closely scrutinised by analysts for clues as to who may replace Mr Jang, Leonid Petrov, a Korean studies researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, said.

They will also be watching to see if Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, reappears after not being seen in public since last year.

“Blood is thicker than water, so it will be immediate family members who will be instrumental in helping the young emperor keep the cards closer to his chest,” Petrov said.

In a sign the purge hasn’t affected Mr Kim’s aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, who married Jang in 1972, the Yonhap news agency reported that she was among a group of people who would organise a funeral for a senior party official that died recently.

One area to be affected by the purge will be North Korea’s ties with China, as Mr Jang had served as the point person for relations with China and had negotiated deals to jointly build industrial zones along their borders.

Bloomberg