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N. Korea’s Elite Circle Undergoing Major Change

Posted November. 18, 2008 03:10,   


Officials accompanying North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on his public appearances have changed, possibly indicating a major shift in Pyongyang’s elite circle.

Considering the officials who accompanied Kim before he allegedly fell ill Aug. 14 and those who did so after he watched a soccer match Oct. 4, core members of the ruling Workers’ Party have apparently fallen out of favor with the Dear Leader.

Newly emerging officials involved with “photo politics” and the Stalinist nation’s succession plan are rising.

When the (North) Korea Central News Agency reported that Kim watched a soccer game 51 days after visiting a military unit Aug. 14, North Korea experts have paid closer attention to who accompanies Kim.

Last month, he was reported to have watched the match with top officials from the party’s central committee, including Lee Chae Il, first vice minister of the party. Lee had never been in public with Kim before Aug. 14.

Lee has accompanied Kim four times since, including to a military unit’s performance.

A North Korea expert said, “Lee seems to have been deeply involved in Kim’s ‘photo politics’ since Oct. 4.”

On Kim’s succession plan, Lee Jeh Gang, vice director of the party’s organization and guidance department, has been mentioned three times and Kim’s brother-in-law Chang Sung Taek twice.

Lee Jeh Gang accompanied Kim just once before Aug. 14 and his face has yet to be shown in public. Chang, who is known to be the head of the North’s secret police, is known to have run things in the country while Kim was ailing.

Lee Jeh Gang has reportedly maintained close political relations with Kim’s second and third sons Jong Chul and Jong Un, in contrast to Chang, who has supported Kim’s eldest son Jong Nam.

Hyon Chol Hae, the standing vice director of the (North) Korean People’s Army’s general political department, and Lee Myong Soo, the administration bureau chairman of the National Defense Commission, accompanied Kim at six of his seven public appearances.

Kim Myong Kook, deputy chief of the Korean People’s Army’s general staff department, appeared four times with the leader and senior Workers’ Party official Kim Yang Gon three.

On the other hand, Kim Ki Nam and Choe Tae Bok, central committee secretaries of the party, have apparently fallen out of the Dear Leader’s favor.

Kim Ki Nam had appeared 22 times with Kim and Choi three before Kim reportedly fell ill. Since then, however, each of them has accompanied their leader only once. Park Nam Ki, central committee director of the Workers’ Party who accompanied Kim 10 times before he fell ill, has not been seen since.

Another North Korea expert said, “It remains to be seen whether the changes in North Korean officials accompanying Kim means a real change in political power.”