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(2nd LD) Kim Jong-un orders probe into recent shooting death of S. Korean official: spy agency

All News 19:56 November 03, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with details on senior N.K. official in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's state intelligence agency said Tuesday that there is circumstantial evidence indicating that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered a probe into the military's fatal shooting in September of a South Korean fisheries official, according to lawmakers.

Officials from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) made the remarks during a parliamentary intelligence committee's regular audit session into the agency, lawmakers who attended the meeting said.

"According to intelligence, there are circumstantial signs of (North Korea) carrying out a search for the body (of the slain official)," one of the official was quoted as saying during the closed-door session.

"(NIS) detected circumstantial signs indicating that Chairman Kim ordered a probe into details of the incident," the official said.

The remarks were relayed to the media by Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition People Power Party and Rep. Kim Byung-kee of the ruling Democratic Party, both senior members at the intelligence committee.

Asked if the order called for a fresh probe on top of the initial investigation allegedly conducted by the North, Kim said, "As far as we understand, yes."

Three days after the North Korean military shot the 47-year-old official to death on the northern side of the maritime border in the Yellow Sea, Pyongyang said in a notification sent to South Korea on Sept. 25 that it was launching an internal probe into the case.

The NIS official also said the North Korean military reduced the use of its communication networks and changed its communication slang after details about the military communication lines were exposed to South Korean media following the shooting incident.

Park Jie-won, the director of the National Intelligence Service, is seen ahead of the parliamentary audit into the agency on Nov. 3, 2020, at the agency's headquarters in Seoul. (Yonhap)

North Korea may also announce a reorganization of the leadership with an eye to elevating the status of Chairman Kim as well as a new line of internal and external strategies during the 8th Workers' Party Congress stated for January next year, according to the NIS officials.

"The North is preparing to make the congress the highest-profile political event in order to break out of the internal and external impasse ... the 8th congress could become an important tipping point for the North Korean (political) system," the officials noted.

As part of the process, Kim may also be elevated to Generalissimo -- the highest rank of generals granted to his predecessors Kim Jong-il, posthumously in 2012, and Kim Il-sung, in 1992 -- the officials said.

Kim also turned his leadership to be "policy-oriented" from one centered on on-site inspections, presiding over a far higher number of party policy meetings this year compared with previous years, they said.

Instead, his powerful sister Yo-jong and other key aides have been put in charge of on-site inspections, the officials said, adding that the official party rank of the sister, currently an alternate member at the Politburo of the Workers' Party Central Committee, is likely to be elevated in the upcoming party congress.

On the military front, the communist country is in the process of building two new submarines that are capable of carrying submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the officials also said.

Referring to the North's military parade last month, the intelligence officials said the event involved a total of 76 ballistic missiles of nine different types, the biggest number of such weapons presented by the country.

The officials said the North is injecting young blood into its military, recently replacing about 40 percent of army corps commanders with younger officers in their 50s. The Ministry of People's Armed Forces has also been renamed as the defense ministry, probably in a step to fit into the image of a "normal state," the officials said.

Also Tuesday, the spy agency dismissed a recent media report that First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui went through forced labor amid her monthslong absence from state media.

"Though First Vice Minister Choe has not taken part in public activities, she is known to be focusing on setting up (the North's) U.S. policy after the presidential election," Kim, the ruling party lawmaker, said, citing the agency officials.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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