North Korea: Kim Jong-un wants to 'purge' his sick aunt

Regime's leader is 'removing' Pyongyang's 'old guard' but high-profile defector may spill his secrets

LAST UPDATED AT 13:02 ON Fri 6 Dec 2013

NORTH KOREAN leader Kim Jong-un is preparing to "purge" his ailing 65-year old aunt as part of a bloodletting designed to eradicate Pyongyang's "old guard", the Daily Telegraph reports.

But the pariah state has been rocked by reports that a top aide who managed funds for Jong-un's uncle has defected to South Korea. The unnamed man, who also has intimate knowledge of Kim Jong-un's financial affairs, would be the communist state's "most serious defection in 15 years", Reuters says.

It is understood the aide requested asylum two months ago and is "currently being protected by South Korean officials in a secret location in China," says Reuters. About 25,000 North Koreans have defected to the South but few of them have been highly placed in Pyongyang.

It seems likely the defection and the threat to Jong-un's aunt are connected.

She is Kim Kyong-hui, the wife of Jang Song-thaek, who was removed from his post as the vice chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission earlier this month. Jang has not been seen since, The Telegraph says.

The aide who has reportedly defected worked for Jang and there are suggestions his removal from power may be linked to the man's decision to flee Pyongyang.

Kim Kyong-hui is rumoured to be battling "cancer, alcoholism and depression linked to the suicide of her daughter in Europe in 2006," the Telegraph says. It has been reported that Jong-un wants to replace her with his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong.
Falling out of favour with North Korea's young leader can be deadly. In August, it was reported that Jong-un's ex-girlfriend had been executed for making a 'sex tape' and possessing a bible.

Prior to Song Thaek's disappearance earlier this month, two of his colleagues were reportedly found guilty of "corruption and activities that ran counter to the policies of the Workers' Party of Korea". Both men were executed in public.

The Telegraph says Jong-un has replaced many of the senior officials who were loyal to his father, Kim Jong-il, with "younger henchmen who are loyal to his regime".

But moving against Kyong-hui, the daughter of the regime's revered founder Kim Il-sung, might be "taking the cull too far," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor and North Korea expert at Tokyo's Waseda University. Kyong-hui has been considered "untouchable" and replacing her – either as part of the ongoing purge or due to ill-health – could "trigger a renewed power struggle," Shigemura said.

"If she disappeared or died, the regime would be badly shaken," he said. "It might even be difficult for it to survive." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.