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Chad O'Carroll and Dagyum Ji
Chad O'Carroll and Dagyum Ji are NK News correspondents based in Seoul.
North Korea’s Minister of State Security, Kim Won Hong, has been dismissed from his position, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MoU) said on Friday, without providing evidence for the claim.
The State Security Department (SSD) is North Korea’s regime political security organization and is responsible for spying on citizens and running political prisons.
“Minister of State Security, Kim Won Hong had been demoted from general to major-general, and was dismissed in mid-January after being investigated by the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) of the Party,” Jeong Joon-hee, an MoU spokesperson, told reporters during a regular news briefing.
“The leadership of the Party is currently conducting an intensive investigation into Kim Wong Hong and the State Security Department, and there is a possibility that the level of punishment will be increased and the subject of punishment will be expanded.”
The South’s MoU said the State Security Department claimed that “human rights abuses such as torture in the process of investigations and corruptions” was the “superficial” reason for Kim’s dismissal.
The MoU’s spokesperson, however, declined to reveal the “practical reason” of the dismissal, but hinted a power struggle may be behind it.
“I believe the discord among the leadership and the issue of conflicts surrounding Kim Jong Un can be one [reason] of our speculations,” Jeong said.
“The dismissal of Kim Won Hong, who was a key aide and had supported Kim Jong Un’s reign of terror, led to an increase in instability for the regime, such as deepening agitation of executives and weakening control over the residents,” he added.
As of Friday morning there was no confirmation of the dismissal in North Korea’s official state media.
Data from NK Pro’s Leadership Tracker tool shows that Kim appeared to fall out of favor in 2014, participating in just eight senior leadership appearances according to state media. The year before, Kim participated in 32, the majority of which were related to military issues.
State media last mentioned Kim on June 30 2016, when he was elected to become a member of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK.
When asked if the North might re-appoint Kim to his role, as happened with Choe Ryong Hae, the MoU spokesperson refrained from making any conclusion.
“It’s different from person by person and case by case,” Jeong told reporters.
Cheong Seong-jang, a senior researcher at Seoul’s Sejong Institute, told NK News that if the dismissal was related to violations of rules and norms, “Kim Won Hong (could be) expected to be reinstated gradually after a certain period of time.”
Multiple South Korean media outlets on Friday referred to the development as a ‘purge’ in their reporting of the issue.
“I would consider it a purge if it is specifically political,” NK Pro Intelligence Director John Grisafi said of the development. “That is, it was a result of his specific disagreement/opposition with Kim or someone else quite high or factionalism.”
Kim had held the minister role since April 2012, just a few months after Kim Jong Un came to power.
Main picture: Rodong Sinmun, edited by NK News