N.K. seen spurring leadership shakeup

2014-01-06 20:26

North Korea’s official Korean Central Television introduces Kim Yong-Kwang as the new metal industry minister on Thursday. (Yonhap News)

North Korea appears to be quickening a reshuffle of its top brass to consolidate his power in the aftermath of the execution of leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful uncle.

Pyongyang has replaced its coal industry and metal industry ministers in recent weeks, while calling in a raft of ambassadors known for close ties with Jang Song-thaek, the deceased vice chairman of the potent National Defense Commission.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Sunday introduced Mun Myong-hak as coal industry minister, a position held by Rim Nam-su at least until a year ago, while reporting on the 30th anniversary of a coal mining complex in the western province of South Pyongan.

The charges culminating in Jang’s death unveiled by the KCNA included underpricing overseas “precious underground resources including coal” and land within an up-and-coming special economic zone.

The mineral-rich North has long been seeking to shore up its crumbling economy through exports of coal, iron ore, hard coal and other resources, mostly to China.

Seoul’s spy chief Nam Jae-joon late last month ascribed Jang’s shock purge to discords among the elite over lucrative coal export business.

It remains unclear, however, whether Jang and Rim had had a close relationship.

Former manager of a youth coal mine in South Pyongan, Mun was twice named a member of the Supreme People’s Assembly, in 2003 and 2009, before being introduced last January as head of a youth coal mining complex in Sunchon in the region.

His appointment was the latest in an ongoing personnel shakeup in Pyongyang.

On Thursday, Korean Central Television introduced Kim Yong-kwang as metal industry minister as it aired the reactions of ministry officials to Kim Jong-un’s New Year address. His predecessor Han Hyo-yon last appeared in state media last June.

Kim was vice metal industry minister from June 2008 and manager of a mining complex in Musan, North Hamgyong Province, from December 2011, and was nominated to the steering committee of the funeral of late leader Kim Jong-il around then.

“Our metal industry will actively contribute to strengthening national power by bringing up the working classes’ combative enthusiasm and reproducing steel,” he told the broadcaster on Thursday.

The Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan, said last month that Kim Jong-ha has become secretary of the Cabinet secretariat, succeeding Kim Yong-ho.

In a military tribunal followed by his execution, Jang was accused of “incapacitating the Cabinet by taking control over major areas of national economy.”

Ri Ryong-ha and Jang Soo-kil, both Jang’s associates and senior officials at the ruling Workers’ Party’s administrative department, were believed to have been executed in November. Diplomats known as his confidants were also reportedly called back to Pyongyang including Pak Kwang-chol, North Korea’s ambassador to Sweden; Jang Yong-chol, ambassador to Malaysia; Jon Yong-jin, ambassador to Cuba; and Hong Yong, deputy representative to UNESCO.

Given its harsh criticism toward Jang Song-thaek and his aides, the Kim regime is expected to take on further bloody purges to remove their traces and tighten his grip.

Further changes involving key posts including the NDC are likely to come to light in April when Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament opens, experts said.

“For centuries authoritarian regimes have purged potential rivals and eliminated their power base. Even full brothers have killed each other for political power in both the East and West,” said Shepherd Iverson, a North Korea expert at Inha University in Incheon.

“An ambitious elder in an age-ranking society is a genuine threat.”

By Shin Hyon-hee