North Korea punishes officials of key military bureau: SK spy agency

Frederick Owens
November 21, 2017

North Korea "has banned any gatherings related to drinking, singing and other entertainment", the NIS, South Korea's spy agency, revealed during a parliamentary briefing Monday, according to Yonhap News Agency.

North Korea staged its sixth nuclear test on September 3, detonating what it said was a hydrogen bomb, and most recently launched a ballistic missile on September 15, firing it over the Japanese island of Hokkaido into the Pacific Ocean.

North Korea is regarded as one of the most repressive countries in the world today, according to Freedom House, an independent watchdog. Travel overseas is heavily curtailed, conversations are routinely monitored and punishments imposed for possession of foreign media, including South Korean music and Chinese movies.

This photo taken on August 12, 2016 shows a volunteer (R) tasting Taedonggang beer at the beer sampling competition after the opening of Pyongyang Taedonggang Beer Festival on the banks of the Taedong river in Pyongyang. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin visited Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, in October past year.

Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Won-hong, the bureau's chief and deputy chief, were reportedly singled out in what was described as the first official inspection of the agency in two decades. The scope of the punishment remains unclear but it may indicate a power struggle among Kim's key aides.

The South Korean spy agency told the lawmakers that the North Korean investigation of the military political bureau is continuing, and is spearheaded by senior Workers' Party official Choe Ryong Hae, who was the military's top political officer before Hwang.

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The South Korean spy agency believes Choe was briefly sent to work in a farm in 2015 as a punishment for mishandling a power station construction project, reappearing in public a month later.

Kim Byung-kee, a South Korean member of parliament, said: "We have been watching the situation as we have gathered such intelligence [on the punishment]".

China's relations with North Korea have deteriorated under Kim, who has ignored Beijing's calls to end the North's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests and return to disarmament talks. It said such a test might be carried out under the "disguise of peaceful space development", according to Yonhap.

As to the possibility of another nuclear explosion, the NIS said there are now no signs of an imminent test.

In an interview with Reuters, Han Tae Song, North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, brushed off the new sanctions which the Trump administration has said it is preparing, as well as the possibility of North Korea being added to a USA list of states sponsoring terrorism.

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