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`Heir Apparent Likely Ordered Assassination Plot`

Posted April. 22, 2010 06:21,   


The attempted assassination of the highest-ranking North Korean official to defect to South Korea was almost certainly ordered by the North’s heir apparent Kim Jong Un, a South Korean official knowledgeable about North Korea said yesterday.

Two North Korean “defectors” were arrested in connection with a plot to kill Hwang Jang-yeop, a former secretary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party. The following is excerpts from the interview.

― Why do you believe Kim Jong Un ordered the assassination attempt?

Major issues of the North’s intelligence unit need approval from Kim Jong Un. Attention is also being paid to the unit’s leader Kim Yong Chol. The order to assassinate Hwang is beyond Kim Yong Chol’s authority, however. The intelligence unit was created in February last year when the maneuver agency of the Workers’ Party in charge of spy activities and the 35th agency in charge of overseas maneuvers were integrated with the spy agency of the People`s Armed Forces Ministry. It is crystal clear that Kim Yong Chol, who was recently promoted to lieutenant general, cannot control the maneuver agency or the 35th agency that had been led by Oh Kuk Ryol, who is two ranks higher than Kim Yong Chol. Still, Kim Yong Chol cannot intervene in the works of the 35th agency and the maneuver agency at all. He also has limited authority only.

― How can Kim Jong Un dominate the intelligence unit?

Kim Jong Un has struggled to gain control of overseas intelligence partly because he had lived abroad for a long time. In 2007, he ordered the spy agency of the People’s Armed Forces Ministry to form an overseas intelligence unit, but it was unsuccessful since it cannot be established overnight. In February last year, he finally integrated the maneuver agency and the 35th agency into the spy agency, and promoted the agency into the intelligence unit. He then got a hold over the unit. The intelligence unit has powerful authority. Kim Jong Un was able to seize control of an organization in charge of overseas intelligence and maneuvering thanks to approval from his father and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Notably, Kim Jong Un took over the overseas intelligence unit before gaining control of the People’s Security Ministry and police.

― Why does North Korea want to assassinate Hwang, who defected to South Korea long ago?

Hwang has a symbolic existence. If he is assassinated despite being under tight protection, it can serve as a warning to North Korean defectors that they can also be killed by spies. Hwang’s death can also serve as an example to the North Korean elite on what could happen if they resist the communist regime. Moreover, it can spread fear in South Korea and split South Korean society. Kim Jong Un is gaining authority over security-related ministries from his father. Kim needs to show achievements of the intelligence unit to prove his leadership. In short, North Korean hardliners are attempting to take a more hawkish stance in response to Seoul’s hard-line policy toward Pyongyang.

― Did Kim Jong Un also order an attack on the Cheonan?

Rumor has it that North Korea attacked the Cheonan, but I have no idea. Only few know the facts behind the incident. The North’s intelligence unit, however, is capable of attacking a patrol ship since the maneuver agency and the 35th agency in charge of operating submarines and semi-submarines are now under Kim Jong Un. Even if the Cheonan was attacked by North Korea, it might not have been done by the North Korean navy or 4th army corps.