The reclusive state of North Korea is rarely in western headlines for the right reasons and Wednesday is no different. The whereabouts of a powerful uncle of the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, are unknown following speculation that he has been "removed".
Jang Song-Thaek, Kim Jong Un's uncle, was a powerful force in North Korea. He held the role of vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission and was a department head of the ruling Workers’ Party. Viewed by some as a mentor to young Kim, and often seen at his side, Jang fell off the radar this week amidst reports that he has been "purged by a resurgent military faction in Pyongyang".
Jang has not been seen in public since late November. At the same time two of his aides were publicly executed. The number of public executions in North Korea have increased this year and as reported in early November there were 80 public executions in one single day. Those executed were accused of crimes allegedly including watching South Korean films and distributing pornography.
The Telegraph reports Jang's two aides were: "Found guilty of corruption and activities that ran counter to the policies of the Workers' Party of Korea, according to a report by South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS). The NIS is still trying to determine the full scale of the purge, which is apparently ongoing, Yonhap News reported, and there is a possibility that Jang has also been executed".
South Korea and North Korea are hardly firm allies and so reports from either country about the other must always be treat with some skepticism. However, in this case Jang's disappearance is now public knowledge.
A South Korean Minister claims that Kim Jong-un's uncle is safe even though it appears he has been removed from his post. His removal is the most significant in the two years since Kim Jong Un came to power. He was a powerful figure during Kim Jong-il's time as leader of North Korea.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald "Jang, who married Kim Jong-un's aunt Kim Kyong Hui in 1972, was named to the post in June 2010 by Kim Jong-il". Many political pundits believe the "purge" is all about Kim asserting his power. "This boy king ... very much wants to show he's in charge," says fmr. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill.