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N. Korea purged senior intelligence official: source

All Headlines 11:05 April 17, 2012

SEOUL, April 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to have removed a senior intelligence official as he takes full control of the communist country, a source said Tuesday.

U Tong-chuk, first deputy head of the State Security Ministry, has been absent from state media coverage since late last month when he accompanied Kim to a mausoleum in Pyongyang to pay respects to Kim's late father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il who died in December.

U was one of the seven top officials who walked with Kim Jong-un beside the hearse carrying the body of Kim Jong-il during the funeral procession in Pyongyang on Dec. 28.

The senior intelligence official and the seven others were believed to be confidants and advisers as Kim Jong-un took the reins of the country after his father's demise.

The young leader seems to have purged U as he assumes his father's key posts in the ruling Workers' Party, military and the government in a series of political events aimed at consolidating his power.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency reported last week that Kim Won-hong was appointed as State Security Minister in April, taking up U's position.

It is not clear whether U has been dismissed from his post or executed.

A South Korean official, who closely monitors North Korean affairs, said the reported purge has yet to be confirmed. He asked not to be identified, citing policy.

The North has a track record of purging or executing senior officials.

Last year, North Korea apparently removed Ryu Kyong, another senior intelligence official, according to South Korean officials and local media.

In 2010, the North reportedly executed Pak Nam-gi, former chief of the planning and finance department of the Workers' Party, over Pyongyang's botched currency reform in 2009 that caused massive inflation and worsened food shortages.

In the 1990s, North Korea executed a top agricultural official after a famine that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.


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