The President of South Korea has warned that North Korea is suffering an “extreme reign of terror” under Kim Jong-un’s regime.
Park Geun-hye was speaking on Friday and addressed recent hostilities with her country’s northern neighbor, claiming that recent events along the disputed maritime border were provoking increased tensions, writes Choe Sang-Hun for The New York Times. Despite reports of executions of high-ranking officials, it is always hard to know what is truth and what is fiction when it comes to North Korea.
Reports of gruesome execution by anti-aircraft gun
“Many people are alarmed by the North’s recent provocative acts and as they learn of an extreme reign of terror within North Korea,” said the South Korean President. “There is a growing concern among people over what might happen.”
Two days previously her spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, informed South Korean officials that Kim Jong-un had executed one of his top generals using an anti-aircraft gun. The North Korean minister of the People’s Armed Forces, Hyon Yong-chol, was blasted with the high-caliber weapon in front of a crowd of hundreds of officials.
On Wednesday and Thursday, North Korea also fired a series of artillery shells near the disputed maritime border to the west. However the biggest news to emerge from the peninsula this week was undoubtedly the gruesome execution of General Hyon.
Hyon could be latest official to be executed
Should the reports be true, Hyon would become the most prominent North Korean official to be purged since Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s own uncle, was killed in late 2013. Jang was reportedly executed for plotting a military coup and disrespecting his nephew during a military parade by clapping halfheartedly.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said this Wednesday that one of the reasons Kim Jong-un had Hyon killed was because the 66-year-old fell asleep during a meeting. Intelligence officials claimed that over 70 senior officials from the secretive nation had been executed since Kim Jong-un came to power towards the end of 2011.
Although no sources were cited for the information, the intelligence service provided graphic details of the executions, including the use of anti-aircraft guns and flamethrowers to dispose of the bodies. It was also reported that relatives were forced to watch the executions but were banned from crying.
Reports unconfirmed by North Korea
However some South Koreans still doubt whether General Hyon was actually put to death, because his execution has not been confirmed by North Korea. On the other hand. Jang’s execution was readily confirmed. The lack of information has led to speculation that Hyon may have been sent to a labor camp rather than being executed.
Instability in the North would be a worry for relations and increase the possibility of armed conflict with the South. However some analysts do not believe that the reported purges are a sign of political trouble. Kim Dong-yup, an analyst at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, claimed the South Korean media was propagating “best-selling fiction” and “wishful thinking”, in reference to reports of Kim Jong-un’s tyrannical rule and the assumption that purges were a sign of instability.
Regime change not on the cards
Executions as part of political purges are part of everyday life in North Korea, continued Kim Dong-yup. He cited previous so-called crises in the North which led to speculation that the government could collapse. “If such views were right, North Korea must have collapsed several times by now,” Mr. Kim said. “What’s happening in North Korea is extremely abnormal by our standards, but we also need to see the reign of terror not simply as a dictator raving mad, but rather as his carefully calculated choice,” he said.
So far the Kim dynasty has ruled for 67 years in North Korea. They have succeeded where others have failed by making dictatorship a family affair, allowing them to maintain control for generations.
North Korea maintains such a tight grip on the information which enters and leaves the country that its population are still convinced that their home is a kind of Shangri La, while foreign media are left clutching at straws and filling in details with sometimes fictional reports. All of this only adds to the mystery surrounding North Korea, its intentions and its capabilities.
Even experts in the field are left patching together the goings on from different reports from sometimes questionable sources. It is hard to measure levels of dissent among the North Korean public, and even harder to envisage them being conscious of anything other than the version of reality fed to them by their totalitarian rulers.