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(LEAD) N.K. leader sacks chief of spy agency: Seoul

All Headlines 11:37 February 03, 2017

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, first 5 paras; UPDATES with more info in paras 7-8, 10)

SEOUL, Feb. 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sacked the chief of the country's spy agency on suspected abuse of power and executed many of its officials following surveillance conducted by the ruling party, South Korea's government said Friday.

Kim Won-hong, 72, was dismissed from the head of the Ministry of State Security in mid-January after the probe by the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) found the agency had abused its authority, according to Seoul's unification ministry. His military rank was also demoted to major general from full general, it said.

The ministry said he was sacked to take responsibility for the suspicion that the intelligence agency committed wrongdoings including human rights violations, abuse of power and corruption.

"North Korea('s leader) dismissed Kim, his key aide who implemented his reign of terror," Jeong Joon-hee, a ministry spokesman, said at a regular press briefing.

"Instability in the North Korean regime is likely to increase as the elite members may become agitated and the regime's control over ordinary North Koreans could weaken," he added.

A government official, asking not to be named, said that North Korea also killed an unspecified number of the agency's officials in the wake of the probe.

North Korea's security ministry has powerful authority as it screens so-called reactionary elements in society, supervises political prisoners' camps and arrests those who attempt to flee the country.

Known as a key aide to the North's leader, Kim became the head of the spy agency in April 2012 after Kim Jong-un took office in late 2011.

Kim serves as a member of the political bureau of the WPK's central committee and the central military commission. He is a member of the newly-created state organ State Affairs Commission as well.

He is also known to have spearheaded the move to execute Jang Song-thaek in December 2013, the once-powerful uncle of the North's young leader.

"Kim's dismissal does not appear to be a purge, so I think that he could be re-instated after undergoing some re-education," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute.

North Korea's leader is believed to have executed more than 100 government and military officials as he seeks to consolidate his oppressive rule.

(LEAD) N.K. leader sacks chief of spy agency: Seoul - 1

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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