Interviewer: There are reports coming out of North Korea that Kim Young-sang, former Railways Minister, and Moon Il-bong, former Finance Minister have been purged, and in all three cabinet ministers have been forced out. There are speculations that they are firming up the succession process through this. We will be looking into this in more detail. The President of North Korea Strategic Information Service Center, Yun-keol Lee, is here. Welcome, Mr Lee.
Yun-keol Lee, Chairman of NKSIS: Thank you, hello.
Interviewer: These individuals are senior ranking. It is being said that three have been purged. Can you confirm this?
Lee: Absolute confirmation is not possible at the moment but Railways Minister Kim Young-sang is known to have died in March, 2009.
Interviewer: Two years ago?
Lee: Yes, so it has been confirmed that he is no longer be functioning in that role. The others the government is still in the process of verifying.
Interviewer: There are reports that Kim Young-sang, the Railways Minister may have been targeting Kim Jong-il, implicated in the Yongcheon Station explosion. Is there some linkage between his death and the succession process?
Lee: I don't think we can go as far as saying that it was a direct cause. In so far as we know, he was still in his post in December 2008. In North Korea, before someone is purged or executed, in investigating the crime, the authorities look into that person's whole life with a view to the offence. They're not just looking at a single action. Suppose someone commits a crime in South Korea, that particular crime is investigated according to our civil or criminal laws. It's different in North Korea. The authorities pile up "seconds" on the dish of guilt, so to speak. In order to justify a purge or execution they'll ration out more evidence in justification.
Interviewer: You mean the North Korean authorities will take into account any conceivable past transgressions and use them as co-accusations in framing the person's guilt.
Lee: Yes, and in that regard, its possible to conclude the April 2004 Kim Jong-il train incident was used against him.
Interviewer: It is believed that North Korea is in the process of securing the succession of Kim Jong-un, and that there might be a large scale purge at some time. What's your view on this?
Lee: I think it's already started. I think a lot more people than we currently know about have been pushed out. The ‘delegates’ meeting’ to be held this April 7th will draw more attention to it in my view.
Interviewer: Deaths from road accidents, deaths from heart attacks, it is said that these victims of the ongoing purge may be connected in some way with the succession process. How do you view what happened to Yon Hyeong-muk, Lee Yong-chol and Lee Jae-gang?
Lee: Yon Hyeong-muk the Jagang Province Party Secretary, formerly a member of the National Defense Commission who was promoted to its head, we judge to have died in an accident. With regard to Lee Yong-cheol, Lee Jae-gang, and Park Jong-sun, Lee Yong-cheol was first vice-chairman in charge of the military at the Central Party's Organization and Guidance Department. Lee Jae-gang was first vice-chariman of the headquarters of the Central Party's Committee, while Park Jong-sun was responsible for general party matters, its daily running. All high status party apparatchiks. In North Korea the Organization and Guidance Department is key. It's the egg's yolk, so to speak. Kim Jong-il has actually referred to it as such. It's the locum of an awful lot of power. It's pushing it to think that these individuals all -within the space of one five month period in 2009- that they all accidentally passed away.
Interviewer: Perhaps these individuals were all opposed to the hereditary succession?
Lee: It's not just about being opposed. Let's look at it this way. At the time when Kim Jong-il emerged as Kim Il-sung's successor, individuals were steadily removed one by one. So comparing then with now, the purge can only be related to the succession. I don't think all these people were opposed.
Interviewer: So how do these purges usually occur in North Korea, I wonder.
Lee: There are three principal methods of purging in North Korea. The first is execution. There are instances when those purged are sent to a political prison and then killed. Secondly there is reeducation in revolutionary ideals. The purged are forced to work as functionaries way below their party and work status in order to "think on" what they did. The third method of purging we are still somewhat in the dark about. There are people who are alleged to have been killed or are said to have been executed. However, for a variety of reasons, they aren't killed and are instead moved to unofficial areas or placed in unofficial roles. There are examples of them being put to work close under the watch of Kim Jong-il, himself, too. We have to consider more this third method. We tend to take it in a way that purging simply means to be removed from a position. But purging, as we call it, is a process which requires further definition.
Interviewer: Yes, the word purge can apparently be used to describe various processes. Because we're not sure about the present situation in North Korea we wonder whether a person hasn't been purged when anybody important disappears from the scene. But it seems that even then, there are several possible explanations.
Today is April 5th, meaning that Kim Il-sung's birthday is in ten days. They're preparing for big celebrations in North Korea. Leading up to and after this event are you expecting anything particularly new?
Lee: Nothing special. According to the situation as I understand it, in the run up to Kim Il-sung's birthday, a token something is usually given to the people. But will they be able to give that present this time around? Moreover, around 15th April brings a critical turning point in the course of the food crisis. So this may well prove a headache for the regime more than anything.
Interviewer: We're hearing a party of twenty officials has gone to Dandong in China perhaps in advance of a visit to China by Kim Jong-un. What does their visit mean, what might be its purpose?
Lee: Yes, on the 27th March an advance party of twenty people crossed over a bridge on the Aprok River at Sinuiju to Dandong nearby in China without checking through customs or Chinese security. That's twenty people carried in five vehicles entering directly without facing restrictions of any kind. That in itself is very significant. There's no sure evidence that it was in fact an advance party for Kim Jong-un but there was change in Dandong after they visited. So I'm convinced it was such a visit and other channels agree with us on this.
Interviewer: We don't have much time so I'm afraid we'll have to end it there. Until the next opportunity we have to speak, thank you, Lee Yun-keol, for informing us about the ongoing purge of senior officials in North Korea. Thank you.
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