Kim Jong Un finalizes change in old guard with reports of executed uncle

Posted at 5:37 PM, Dec 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-12 18:39:02-05

(CNN) — An uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been executed, the Korean Central News Agency reported early Friday.

“Traitor Jang Song Thaek Executed” blared the headline posted by the state-run news agency. The story said that a special military tribunal had been held Thursday against the “traitor for all ages,” who was accused of having attempted to overthrow the state “by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods.”

It added, “All the crimes committed by the accused were proved in the course of hearing and were admitted by him.”

The KCNA report described Jang as “despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog,” and accused him of having betrayed his party and leader.

Jang Song Thaek, who was married to Kim’s aunt, served as vice chairman of North Korea’s top military body and had often been pictured beside Kim, who has ruled North Korea since his father’s death in 2011.

In Washington, a senior administration official had seen the report. “While we don’t have any way yet to independently confirm it, we don’t question its veracity,” the official said. “The regime’s ruthlessness toward one of its leading members is a reminder of how far North Korea and its new leadership is outside of international norms of behavior.”

The execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle “is a reminder of how far North Korea and its new leadership is outside of international norms of behavior,” a senior Obama administration official said Thursday after North Korean state media reported Jang Song Thaek’s death.

KCNA’s report comes days after Jang Son Thaek was removed from his military post.

“Some see this as perhaps the last part of the power consolidation phase, that Kim Jong Un has in fact removed all of the old guard close to his father and is now finalizing the inserting of his own inner group,” John Park, a Northeast Asia analyst at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said this week.

Kim accused Jang and his allies of double-dealing behind the scene, “dreaming different dreams” and selling the country’s resources at cheap prices, thereby threatening North Korea’s economic development, according to a KCNA statement this week.

“Jang desperately worked to form a faction within the party by creating illusion about him and winning those weak in faith and flatterers to his side,” the statement said.

The public document scolded Jang for improper relations with several women, drug use, gambling, eating at expensive restaurants and getting medical treatment in a foreign country.

Two allies of Jang — Lee Yong-ha and Jang Soo-kee — were recently executed, South Korean lawmakers told reporters prior to Friday’s report.

The lawmakers, including Cho Won-jin of the governing Saenuri Party, said they had received a briefing from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. CNN has not been able to independently confirm the report.

North Korea, a state shrouded in secrecy, has been involved in a protracted standoff with its neighbors and Western powers over its nuclear weapons program.

Tensions between North and South Korea soared this year as Pyongyang reacted angrily to tightened United Nations sanctions imposed in response to its latest nuclear test.

The two sides are still technically at war after the Korean conflict, which began in 1950, ended in 1953 in a truce, not a treaty.

It has previously been reported that Kim Il Sung — the late father of Kim Jong Il and architect of the North Korean state — disapproved of Jang’s marriage into the family, according to Time Magazine.

CNN’s Elise Labott contributed to this report

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