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Mystery exit of Kim Jong Un's powerful uncle in North Korea

Mystery exit of Kim Jong Un's powerful uncle in North Korea
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What has happened to the man once seen as the power behind Kim Jong Un’s throne in secretive North Korea?

Jang Song Thaek is the young leader’s uncle and is believed by some experts to have fallen victim to an attempt by his nephew to stamp his own identity on the country as his predecessors did.

The 67-year-old – previously seen as Kim Jong Un’s guardian – has not appeared in North Korean media for a month.

Accordion-playing Jang is married to Kim Jong Un’s aunt, Kyong Hui, who is a daughter of the North’s founding leader and its “eternal President”, Kim Il Sung.

He was widely seen as an advocate of economic reform.

Park Jeong-jin, professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in South Korea, believes Jang was pushed out after a power struggle with the military, which is still centred on the old revolutionary generation.

“This stemmed from the military’s complaints about Jang Song Thaek, who was the key figure in Kim Jong Un’s power structure leading the economic reforms in recent (North Korean Workers’) party policy,” he said.

Jang had survived previous purges and was rehabilitated to stand at the peak of power as Vice Chairman of the National Defence Commission, the country’s top military body, and was a member of the ruling Workers’ Party Politburo.

He has likely been sacked from both posts, according to South Korean lawmaker Jung Cheong-rae, who on Tuesday cited a senior South Korean official with the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Intelligence sources are quoted as saying that two of Jang Song Thaek’s associates were executed last month, around the last time Jang Song Thaek was seen publicly.

Jang has been a frequent companion of Kim Jong Un on his tours around the country, as he was for Kim Jong Il.

He was seen as a powerful influence as the young leader consolidated power after his father Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011.

He walked by Kim Jong Un’s side as a hearse carried Kim Jong Il’s body through Pyongyang.

Some experts believe his ousting raises questions concerning the effect on North Korea’s devastated economy, but is unlikely to have an impact on Kim Jong Un’s hold on power.