DPRK leader’s aunt un­scathed af­ter purge

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGEN­CIES in Seoul

The aunt of Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea leader Kim Jong-un ap­pears un­scathed af­ter the ex­e­cu­tion of her pow­er­ful hus­band, Jang Song- thaek, de­spite strong spec­u­la­tion that those close to Jang could be purged.

Kim Ky­ong- hui, sis­ter of Kim’s fa­ther and late leader Kim Jong-il, was named as a mem­ber of the state fu­neral com­mit­tee for a se­nior rul­ing party of­fi­cial who died on Fri­day, the of­fi­cial KCNA news agency said late on Satur­day.

Her name was listed along­side a large group of top party and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing de­fense chief Jang Jong­nam and Choe Ry­ong-hae, a close con­fi­dant of the leader and di­rec­tor of the mil­i­tary’s po­lit­i­cal bureau.

News of Kim Ky­ong- hui at­tend­ing an of­fi­cial func­tion in­di­cates that she re­mains in fa­vor with her nephew, who has been con­sol­i­dat­ing his grip on power since his fa­ther’s death two years ago.

Jang Song-thaek, once seen as the po­lit­i­cal re­gent of the young Kim, was ex­e­cuted on Thurs­day for cor­rup­tion and plot­ting to over­throw the state, among other charges.

His ex­e­cu­tion — car­ried out just days af­ter he was ousted from all his party and mil­i­tary po­si­tions — marks the big­gest po­lit­i­cal up­heaval since the young Kim in­her­ited power af­ter the death of his fa­ther in De­cem­ber 2011.

The purge was staged in an ex­traor­di­nar­ily pub­lic and dra­matic man­ner, with Py­ongyang re­leas­ing rare im­ages of Jang be­ing dragged out of a party meet­ing on Dec 8.

Another im­age pub­lished on Fri­day showed a hand­cuffed Jang, with bruises on his face and hands, be­ing held by uni­formed guards at the mil­i­tary tri­bunal that sen­tenced him to death.

Repub­lic of Korea Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye has crit­i­cized what she called a “reign of ter­ror” in the DPRK to bol­ster Kim’s lead­er­ship. Seoul’s de­fense chief vowed to step up troop readi­ness against po­ten­tial provo­ca­tions.

On Sun­day, Py­ongyang an­grily slammed Seoul’s re­ac­tion, call­ing it an “in­tol­er­a­ble provocation”.

The whole le­git­i­macy of Kim Jong-un’s lead­er­ship is based on blood ties.” LEE SE­UNG-YEOL AN­A­LYST AT SEOUL’S EWHA IN­STI­TUTE OF UNI­FI­CA­TION STUD­IES

“The crit­i­cisms that took is­sue with our res­o­lute ac­tions are hideous ... acts of ex­treme hys­te­ria aimed at fur­ther fan­ning in­ter-Korea con­fronta­tion,” the DPRK’s web­site Urim­in­zokkiri said in an ed­i­to­rial.

“We will slap mer­ci­less ham­mers on the at­tempts by enemy forces to ... chal­lenge our dig­ni­fied lead­er­ship, just like we mer­ci­lessly pun­ished the harm­ful el­e­ments among us.”

Jang was seen as play­ing a key role in bol­ster­ing the lead­er­ship of Kim. But the 67-year-old’s grow­ing po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence and power was in­creas­ingly re­sented by the leader, ac­cord­ing to an­a­lysts.

Jang and Kim Ky­ong- hui were once re­garded as the ul­ti­mate power cou­ple in Py­ongyang, as both held key po­si­tions in the rul­ing party.

But Kim Ky­ong- hui, 67, has been less vis­i­ble in the past year, with re­ports say­ing she was se­ri­ously ill and had sought hos­pi­tal treat­ment in Sin­ga­pore.

An­a­lysts have warned that the purge of Jang would ex­tend to a large num­ber of of­fi­cials seen as loyal to him.

Af­ter Jang’s down­fall, the fate of Kim Ky­ong- hui had been un­clear. KCNA on Satur­day said Kim had been asked to pre­pare the fu­neral for Kim Kuk- thae, chair­man of the Con­trol Com­mis­sion of the rul­ing Work­ers’ Party.

The fu­neral com­mit­tee list is one of few indi­ca­tions of DPRK of­fi­cials’ sta­tus.

DPRK busi­ness­men in China have been sum­moned back in large num­bers in re­cent days, ROK’s Yon­hap news agency said on Satur­day.

The move ap­peared aimed at crack­ing down on those “clas­si­fied as hav­ing con­nec­tions” with Jang, who served as a key go-be­tween for re­la­tions with China, Yon­hap said.

How­ever, an­a­lysts said Kim Ky­ong-hui — one of a hand­ful of peo­ple with blood ties to Kim Jong-un — will likely es­cape any harsh treat­ment.

“The whole le­git­i­macy of Kim Jong-un’s lead­er­ship is based on blood ties,” said Lee Se­ung-yeol, an an­a­lyst at Seoul’s Ewha In­sti­tute of Uni­fi­ca­tion Stud­ies.

Kim Ky­ong-hui had played a role “that backs up the le­git­i­macy of the dy­nasty”, Lee said.

The po­lit­i­cal stand­ing of leader Kim would be tar­nished if his aunt were tar­geted, said Kim Kwang- jin, an an­a­lyst at the South’s In­sti­tute for Na­tional Se­cu­rity Strat­egy.

“He (Kim Jong-un) knows if Kim Ky­ong-hui is purged, it would also back­fire on him in the end,” he said.

Jang and Kim Ky­ong- hui had re­port­edly been sep­a­rated for years. She may have been forced to di­vorce him in a bid to dis­tance her­self from the purges that will en­sue, said Hong Hyun-ik, of Seoul’s Se­jong In­sti­tute think tank.

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