Skip to main content

North Korean leader's uncle probably ousted, South Korean lawmakers say

By CNN Staff
updated 10:05 PM EST, Tue December 3, 2013
  • Kim Jong Un may have cemented his power by removing his uncle, analyst says
  • Jang Sung-taek was the vice chairman of North Korea's top military body
  • He has been removed and two of his close allies have been executed, South Korean lawmaker says
  • If confirmed, the move would mark a major upheaval in North Korea's leadership

(CNN) -- It's "very likely" that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's powerful uncle, Jang Sung-taek, has been removed from his top-level position in government, two South Korean lawmakers said Tuesday, citing a briefing from their country's intelligence service.

And two close allies of Jang -- Lee Yong-ha and Jang Soo-kee -- have been publicly executed, one of the South Korean lawmakers said at a news conference.

The lawmakers, including Cho Won-jin of the governing Saenuri Party, said this after receiving what they said was a briefing from South Korea's National Intelligence Service. CNN has not been able to independently confirm the report.

Nightmare for Americans held in North Korea
North Korean beer tour?
Young North Korean defectors' nightmare

Jang Sung-taek was the brother-in-law of North Korea's previous ruler, Kim's father, Kim Jong Il. When the elder Kim died and the son succeeded him, analysts told CNN that Jang would be a power behind the throne as the younger Kim took control of the reclusive nation.

Jang was the vice chairman of North Korea's top military body and has often been pictured beside Kim.

His removal would mark a major upheaval in North Korea's leadership since Kim succeeded his father, who died in in 2011. Some have said he may have been at the heart of an internal palace struggle, one which might have put him even at odds with his own wife, Kim Kyong Hui, according to a Time magazine report two years ago.

"If this is in fact true, the implications are pretty profound," said John Park, a Northeast Asia analyst at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"Some see this as perhaps the last part of the power consolidation phase, that Kim Jong Un has in fact removed all of the old guard close to his father and is now finalizing the inserting of his own inner group," Park told CNN. But he said Jang "was seen as a force of stability" by China, North Korea's leading ally.

"I think there will be a lot of concern in Beijing right now," Park said. Jang cultivated extensive business ties with China, so his removal "also has implications in terms of making money for the regime."

But he said other analysts suspect Jang, who had fallen from favor several years ago for building his own patronage network, may have been caught trying to rebuild that system, resulting in his ouster.

It has previously been reported that Kim Il Sung -- father of Kim Jong Il and architect of the North Korean state -- disapproved of Jang's marriage into the family, according to Time.

North Korea, a state shrouded in secrecy, is involved in a protracted standoff with its neighbors and Western powers over its nuclear weapons program.

Tensions between North and South Korea soared this year as Pyongyang reacted angrily to tightened United Nations sanctions imposed in response to its latest nuclear test.

The two sides are still technically at war after the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a mere truce, not a treaty.

CNN's Judy Kwon in Hong Kong, Matt Smith in Atlanta and journalist Yoonjung Seo in Seoul contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
Experts warn that under Kim Jong Un's rule, Pyongyang has shown an even greater willingness to raise the stakes than before.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
China and North Korea criticize a U.N. report that found crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Mon March 17, 2014
Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by a North Korean agent in the 1970s. What happened after that?
updated 12:30 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Report: North Korea uses multiple techniques to defy sanctions, and shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear missile programs.
updated 3:17 AM EST, Fri February 21, 2014
Families torn apart for more than 60 years -- separated by the Korean War -- began to reunite at a mountain resort in North Korea Thursday.
updated 6:50 AM EST, Tue February 18, 2014
A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state, the UN reported.
updated 11:31 PM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
Former prisoners in North Korea describe horrific stories of being tortured by authorities.
updated 10:27 AM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
Skiing is not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the isolated nation, but North Korea's ski resort is world class.
updated 10:15 PM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
American Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea, has been moved from a hospital to a labor camp.
updated 9:13 PM EST, Tue January 7, 2014
Why is he being held by North Korea in a prison camp? These are the questions for many since his arrest in the isolated country in 2012.
updated 3:18 AM EST, Mon January 27, 2014
The first time the South Korean factory owner watched his North Korean employees nibble on a Choco Pie, they appeared shocked.
updated 8:26 PM EST, Tue January 7, 2014
Dennis Rodman's "Big Bang in Pyongyang" may be in a league of its own, but other stars too have mixed with repressive regimes before.
updated 1:00 PM EST, Thu December 19, 2013
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea to train basketball players, state-run media reports.
updated 9:50 PM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
The nation held a memorial in the honor of former North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il on the second anniversary of his death.
updated 10:58 AM EST, Fri December 13, 2013
Days after he was removed from his powerful military post, Jang Song Thaek was called a traitor and executed.