SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has executed 15 high-ranking government officials this year, as its leader, Kim Jong-un, continues to struggle to establish his monolithic authority more than three years after assuming power, the South Korean intelligence agency told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Since the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2011, Mr. Kim has engineered a series of executions, purges and frequent reshuffles in the governing clique he inherited. South Korean officials said that Mr. Kim, who is believed to be in his early 30s, was resorting to a mix of terror and rewards to thwart any challenge to his inexperienced leadership.
During a closed briefing Wednesday for members of Parliament in Seoul, officials from the National Intelligence Service, the main South Korean spy agency, said Mr. Kim was believed to have ordered the execution of 68 senior officials, some by machine gun, between 2012 and last year, according to two lawmakers who attended the session.
Among the 15 officials killed this year was a North Korean vice minister, who was executed in January after complaining about Mr. Kim’s policy on forestation, the lawmakers said. In February, another vice minister in charge of economic planning was killed for objecting to Mr. Kim’s decision to change the roof design of a building under construction in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. In March, four members of the Unhasu Orchestra, where Mr. Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, once performed as a singer, were executed by firing squad on espionage charges, the lawmakers said. They did not elaborate.
”Kim Jong-un is demonstrating a leadership style that brooked no excuses for not following through with his orders,” Shin Kyoung-min, a South Korean lawmaker, told reporters, citing reports by intelligence officials. ”Those who second-guessed him are considered challenging his authority and executed to set an example for the rest,” he said.
Mr. Shin was one of two lawmakers designated by the Parliament’s intelligence committee to talk to the news media about the briefing. The National Intelligence Service declined to confirm what the two lawmakers told reporters.
Mr. Kim’s “reign of terror” included the execution in 2013 of his uncle,Jang Song-thaek — long considered the second-most powerful man in North Korea — who was accused of stealing state funds and plotting to overthrow Mr. Kim.
Since eliminating his No. 2, Mr. Kim has frequently shifted jobs among his closest aides, and top generals have often been demoted and others promoted.
South Korean officials said that when Mr. Kim ordered his country to close its borders to foreign tourists last October for fear of the Ebola virus, his instruction was so strictly followed that top government officials returning from overseas trips were required to go through a 21-day quarantine, and North Korean diplomats abroad were banned from home visits. North Korea lifted the Ebola ban in early March.
Mr. Kim has spent his early years in power struggling to solidify his authority, as his country’s economy has continued to flounder amid stricter international sanctions. He has made frequent visits to catfish farms, textile factories and military barracks to build his image as a caring leader and legitimate successor in his family’s dynasty.
His tactics of inspiring fear of purges and stoking competition for his favor, South Korean officials said, have fostered strong resentment among North Korea’s elite.
Source: The New York Times, Choe Sang-Hun, April 29, 2015
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