By Alastair Gale
(AP) SEOUL—North Korea’s de facto No. 2 leader and uncle of dictator Kim Jong Un may have been removed from power, South Korea’s spy agency said on Tuesday.
Jang Song Thaek, vice chairman of North Korea’s highest decision-making body, the National Defense Commission, hasn’t been seen publicly since the execution of two of his close aides in November, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers.
The NIS said it suspects Mr. Jang has been removed from power after his aides were executed on corruption allegations, according to the office of Jung Chung-rae, one of the lawmakers who was briefed by the spy agency. It wasn’t clear how the NIS, which declined to comment, got its information about the alleged executions.
Mr. Jang, 67, related to Mr. Kim through his marriage to former ruler Kim Jong Il’s sister, has long been a senior figure in the North Korean regime. He is widely believed to have played a central role in helping Kim Jong Un take control of the country after his father’s death in December 2011.
Mr. Jang was frequently seen with both Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un on domestic trips and traveled out of the country with the former leader. He is said to have been impressed with China’s economic reforms on his visits to that country, including last year on a visit to promote development in North Korea’s special trade zones on the Chinese border. He visited South Korea in 2002.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean issues, confirmed that Mr. Jang’s last public appearance was in a meeting with Japanese politician Kanji Inoki on Nov. 6. Mr. Jang has also made far fewer public appearances this year compared to last year, the ministry said.
“As a regent, helping establish a power base for Kim Jong Un, people thought his power would decline at some point, but it’s been less than two years [since Kim Jong Un took over leadership] so it seems pretty quick if this is true,” said Sokeel Park, director of Research & Strategy at Liberty in North Korea.
Since taking power, Mr. Kim has moved to replace many of military leaders and other officials who served under his father. In October, North Korea appointed its fourth top military general in a little over a year.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry estimates around 100 North Korean military, government and party officials have been replaced since Kim Jong Un took power. Mr. Jang was elected as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission in 2010. Mr. Kim is first chairman.
North Korea had no confirmation of the reports about Mr. Jang, who has disappeared from public view twice before, the latest period from 2003 to 2006.
“We shouldn’t be too shocked if Jang turns up at Kim Jong Un’s side a week from now,” Mr. Park said.
—Kwanwoo Jun contributed to this article.
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