The South Korean intelligence agency, the NIS, reported in a meeting November that General Hwang Pyong-so may have been the victim of a military purge. The general was a trusted advisor of the North Korean dictator for roughly a decade.
General Hwang Pyong-so was once at the very center of the Kim circle. He was so close to the Kim inner circle that he was one of four people seen with Kim Jong-un in the celebratory propaganda photo released after the September nuclear launch.
Like nearly all communist dictatorships, the Kim dynasty is prone to frequent and brutal political purges, reminiscent of those seen in the Stalinist Soviet Union or Mao Zedong’s China.
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According to South Korean intelligence, General Hwang, and his deputy Kim Won-hong, were suspected of holding an “impure” attitude towards the communist party, the Workers’ Party of Korea. The pair are also accused of corruption, specifically exchanging bribes for promotions. South Korean intelligence reports that Kim Jong-un wished to punish the two as a warning to others.
Mr. Kim, General Hwang’s deputy, is believed to have been banished to a prison camp, while Hwang has not been seen since October 13th, leading many to believe he has been executed. In the Kim’s regime, like in most communist countries, perceived disloyalty to the party is a mortal offense. It’s possible that General Hwang paid with his life.
In a country where a vast potion of the population, 18 million people out of some 25 million are living in food insecurity, it’s unsurprising that officials are willing to engage in bribery and corruption. When people don’t have access to the food and goods necessary to satisfy their basic human needs, it’s hard to imagine what they aren’t willing to do. Similarly, history has shown that communist uni-party system is notorious for creating an environment in which corruption flourishes.
The communist dictator has proven time and time again that he is willing to follow in the brutal footsteps of his father and grandfather to keep his power. This February, the dictator’s own half-brother was assassinated with chemical spray at an airport in Malaysia.
Often, the notorious Kim brutality seems nonsensical. Last August, Ri Yong-jin, then the regime’s top education official, was executed by machine gun. His offense? Falling asleep during a meeting. Likewise, in 2015 Defense Minister Hyong Yong-Choi was executed by anti-aircraft guns in front of a crowd of hundreds. He had also fallen asleep during a meeting. Many members of the Kim family are believed to have been executed for various offenses ranging from complaining to holding counter-revolutionary beliefs. Being fed alive to dogs is also allegedly a form of execution favored by the Kims.
This weekend, Kim Jong-un garnered international attention for his visit to Mount Paektu. Following the tradition set by his grandfather and father, the dictator usually visits the mountain before he makes an important decision. He visited the mountain in 2013 before a significant purge that saw several officials executed by flamethrower. Kim also visited the mountain in April 2015 before another high profile execution, leading international analysts to speculate as to whether his visit could indicate the execution of General Hwang.
Korean Central News Agency, one of the despot’s propaganda arms, reported that the visit was in celebration of recent achievements. These achievements may include the most successful missile launch to date, which put the entire continental United States within reach of North Korean nuclear warheads, as well as this week’s announcement by Secretary of State Tillerson that the US is willing to come to diplomatic talks with the regime even without an agreement to denuclearization.
Officially, South Korean intelligence is unaware of General Hwang’s whereabouts.