SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s execution of his uncle and de facto deputy raises the risk of “reckless provocations” from the North, South Korean President Park Geun Hye said.
The purge of Jang Song Thaek, the highest-profile ousting since Kim took power two years ago, has prompted the South to heighten its combat preparedness along the border with North Korea, where thousands of troops face off across a no-man’s land.
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“Recent developments render future directions of North Korea’s political situation unclear,” Park told her aides Monday, according to a statement on the website of her office. South Korea is in “a situation where unexpected events like reckless provocations can’t be ruled out,” she said.
North Korea raised tensions in February by detonating its third nuclear device and has periodically carried out military operations that have fueled the risk of war. In March 2010, a South Korean warship sank in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors in what the South called a North Korean torpedo attack. The North denies the charge. Later that year the north bombarded a front-line South Korean island, killing four people.
North Korea’s military is currently conducting annual winter drills and showing no unusual activities, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said at a briefing earlier Monday.
Jang was executed immediately after a military court convicted him of plotting a coup against his nephew Kim, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Dec. 13.
The son-in-law of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, Jang was promoted to four-star general and vice chairman of the National Defense Commission months before Kim took over the North after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011.
“It really reminded me of a video that we saw of Saddam Hussein doing the same thing, having people plucked out of an audience, and people sitting there sweating and nobody daring to move or do anything,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “To have a nuclear weapon, potentially, in the hands of somebody like Kim Jong Un just becomes even more unacceptable.”
The purge comes two years after the death of Kim’s father, and memorial celebrations beginning at midnight will be closely scrutinized by analysts for clues as to who may replace Jang, Leonid Petrov, a Korean studies researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, said in an email.
They will also be watching to see if Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, reappears after not being seen in public since last year.
“Blood is thicker than water, so it will be immediate family members who will be instrumental in helping the young emperor keep the cards closer to his chest,” Petrov said.
In a sign the purge hasn’t affected Kim’s aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, who married Jang in 1972, the Yonhap news agency reported on Dec. 14 that she was among a group of people who would organize a funeral for a senior party official that died recently.
One area to be affected by the purge will be North Korea’s ties with China, as Jang had served as the point person for relations with China and had negotiated deals to jointly build industrial zones along their borders.
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