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‘Kim’s brutality could threaten regime’s security’

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s continued executions and purges of senior officials could foment angst and resentment among the country’s elite, and eventually threaten the security of his regime, analysts said Thursday.

The execution last month of Hyon Yong-chol, the chief of the North’s Korean People’s Armed Forces, for “dozing off at a military event and talking back” to Kim, underscored the brutality of the dictator. Hyon’s death might have unnerved top officials, by opening up the possibility that they could also be executed, the analysts noted.

“The possibility may gradually increase that those who are on the verge of being executed may do whatever it takes to secure their survival, including rising up against Kim,” said Kim Heung-kwang, chief of the Seoul-based North Korea Intellectual Solidarity

“The already deep angst among the elites would further be aggravated should Kim continue slaying the senior officials for minor things such as dozing off and even putting forward constructive ideas, which could be construed by the leader as an expression of disloyalty.”

The execution of the No. 2 man in the North’s 1.19-million-strong military was only the latest in a recent series of killings. Last month, Seoul’s National Intelligence Service said that Kim had recently ordered the execution of 15 senior officials.

Expert analyses varied over the impact of the executions on Kim’s grip on power. Yet, many agree that in the long term, the brutal approach to dealing with disgruntled members of the elite could pose a political challenge to the regime.

“There is a possibility that the relentless bloody purges could weaken cohesion among the top elites. And uncertainty remains over Kim’s control of the military,” reads an analysis by Cho Han-beom, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

“Thus, the possibility is high that there would be limits in the ability of Kim Jong-un to effectively handle possible cases of instability in the North, including an abrupt popular uprising. Thus the future of the Kim Jong-un regime is opaque.”

Victor Cha, a North Korea expert at the U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that Kim may enjoy making public examples of his strength through the inhumane disposal of some elites, but the execution may reflect greater instability in the regime.

Some observers, however, pointed out that, given the North’s decades-old system of repressing and controlling its elite, Kim’s repeated purges and executions would not be a surprise and may be a typical way for a dictator to consolidate his or her power.

They argue that a reign of terror is natural under a dictatorial regime, and that North Koreans who have long been brainwashed to worship the Kim family would not challenge Kim’s legitimacy as a ruler.

By Song Sang-ho (
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Korea Herald daum