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N. Korean leader doing loyalty check of key officials

All Headlines 14:45 November 20, 2012

SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un is conducting a far-reaching loyalty check on the country's key party, government and military officials as he strives to consolidate his power, a Seoul government official said Tuesday.

"After he officially took over power last April, Kim Jong-un has been conducting a task to verify loyalty or (existence of) corruption of key figures," the official at the Unification Ministry said on condition of anonymity.

The loyalty checks started in Pyongyang and seem to have trickled down to regional units, he said.

The leader is reshuffling his regime in accordance with the results of the loyalty check, the Seoul official said, indicating that the process is aimed at replacing officials from the previous leadership with people favorable to the new leader.

Following late leader Kim Jong-il's death last December, his third son, Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, ascended to power with the country's all-powerful Workers' Party of Korea naming him the party chief at its April conference.

The North's dismissal of military chief Ri Yong-ho in July is interpreted as a key symbol of the on-going reshuffle by the new leader, according to the official.

Also as part of the loyalty check, Hyun Yong-chol, who took over from Ri, had his vice marshal title cut by one notch to general level and Kim Yong-chol, presumed to be the head of the North's anti-South campaign agency, had his general title cut by as many as two notches, the Seoul official said.

The latest punitive decisions on military officials may possibly have been in response to the defection of a North Korean soldier who fled to a front-line military unit of South Korea in October, the ministry official said.

It may also indicate the Kim Jong-un leadership's efforts to shift power to the party away from the military, which was strongly emphasized in the previous Kim Jong-il regime, he said.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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