North Korea Dismisses Key Aide to Kim Jong Un, Reports South Korea

Kim Jong-un
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un looks at a rocket warhead tip at an unidentified location, March 15. Increased activity at a nuclear site suggests the country could be readying for a fifth test. KCNA/Reuters

North Korea has dismissed its minister of state security, considered a key aide to the secretive state's young leader, Kim Jong Un, South Korea said on Friday, following a series of high-level purges.

Kim Won Hong was removed from office as head of the top spy agency in mid-January apparently on charges of corruption, abuse of power and human rights abuses, Jeong Joon-hee, South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman, said, confirming media reports.

Kim Jong Un became leader in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, and his consolidation of power has included purges and executions of top officials, South Korean officials have said.

Last year, North Korea's vice premier for education was executed for not keeping his posture upright at a public event, South Korea said.

Kim Won Hong
North Korean member of the State Affairs Commission Kim Won Hong's profile picture is shown in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang June 30, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA/File Photo REUTERS/KCNA/File Photo

It is difficult to independently verify news about top officials in the North, which has angered the West with a series of missile and nuclear weapons tests in defiance of UN resolutions and sanctions. Some previous reports of executions and purges have proved inaccurate.

Jeong did not say how the South knew of Kim Won Hong's ouster. But he said there could have been further dismissals in the North where the powerful Organisation and Guidance Department was investigating the ministry of state security.

"There is always a possibility that purges continue as part of constantly strengthening power," he said at a regular briefing.

North Korea rarely announces purges or executions, although state media confirmed the 2012 execution of Kim's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, widely considered the country's second most powerful leader, for factionalism and crimes damaging to the economy.

A former defence minister, Hyun Yong Chol, is also believed to have been executed in 2015 for treason, according to the South's spy agency.

It said he was killed with an anti-aircraft gun.

Impoverished North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States.