The head of North Korea’s most powerful military organization is being punished after a key military organ came under scrutiny by the Kim Jong Un regime, South Korea’s spy agency disclosed Monday.
The move is being read by some as an attempt by Kim to ensure the political elite remain insecure and loyal as the country braces for deeper impacts from U.N. Security Councils sanctions.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said a rare inspection of the North Korean military’s General Political Bureau was prompted by concerns of an “impure attitude” and led to top officials being punished.
It is the first time in two decades the General Political Bureau has been inspected, reports South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Hwang Pyong So heads up the bureau and is often described as the second most powerful person in North Korea, the political boss of North Korea’s armed forces. According to the NIS, he has now being subjected to an unknown form of punishment.
Hwang is also the Vice Marshal of the Korean People’s Army and one of five members of the Presidium of the Politburo of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the most powerful decision-making body in North Korea.
Hwang has been one of Kim’s closest aides since 2011 and began working with the North Korean dictator in 2007, before Kim took control of the North Korean regime, according to 38 North affiliate North Korea Leadership Watch (NKLW).
“From 2011 to 2014 Hwang Pyong So was one of Kim Jong Un’s close aides, serving as a gatekeeper and proxy between the supreme leader and several key organizations in the DPRK’s national security community,” reports NKLW.
In his previous position, Hwang acted as the critical link between Kim and several security organizations. He was promoted to his current position in April 2014.
According to South Korean representative Kim Byung-kee of the ruling Democratic Party, the NIS was still trying to determine the exact nature of the punishment.
“We have been watching the situation as we have gathered such intelligence (on the punishment),” he said, quoting the NIS.
Hwang’s second in command, deputy chief Kim Won Hong, is also being punished.
According to the briefing, the review of the bureau was led by its former head, Choe Ryong Hae, now the vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.
Choe was also subject to reports of punishment in 2015, with some reports saying he was sent to work in a mine for ideological re-education.
Choe was demoted but returned to the public spotlight with speculation that Kim was trying to create conflict between top officials in his regime as a way to pre-empt cooperation against him.
The bureau that Choe once led, that is now run by Hwang, plays an essential role in North Korea and influences the entire regime through managing crucial personnel placements in other military bodies like the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.
Whoever controls it has the power to influence loyalties in the armed forces by placing allies in important positions.
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