NORTH Korean leader Kim Jong-un has dismissed top officials in the wake of the recent stand-off with South Korea, state media reported yesterday, a move that suggests he holds them responsible for allowing the confrontation to nearly spin out of control.
The rival Koreas earlier this week threatened strikes against each other before agreeing on measures to reduce animosity.
The stand-off began after land mines that Seoul says the North planted maimed two South Korean soldiers. Seoul responded by resuming propaganda broadcasts critical of Mr Kim’s authoritarian rule for the first time in 11 years. Pyongyang then threatened to destroy the South Korean loudspeakers, and Seoul says the rivals exchanged artillery fire at the border.
During a ruling Workers’ Party meeting, Mr Kim hailed the agreement with the South, which came after marathon talks, as a “crucial landmark” that put “catastrophic” inter-Korean relations back on track toward reconciliation.
He also dismissed an unspecified number of members of the party’s Central Military Commission, which handled the stand-off, the state news agency reported. It gave no reasons for the dismissals, but outside analysts said they may have been sacked because they misjudged South Korea’s strong response to the mine blasts.
North Korea is intolerant of any outside criticism of its political system and analysts say it worries that the South’s broadcasts heard over the border could demoralise front-line troops and residents and eventually weaken Mr Kim’s leadership.
South Korea switched off its loudspeakers on Tuesday after the North expressed “regret” that South Korean soldiers had been injured by the mine explosion. The vague agreement allows Pyongyang to continue denying it laid the mines and Seoul to claim that the term “regret” signals an apology.
It is not known if the dismissed officials received heavier punishment other than being removed from their party posts. Since taking over after the death of his father in 2011, Mr Kim has orchestrated a series of executions and purges in what foreign analysts say was an attempt to bolster his grip on power. The South’s spy service said that in April, Mr Kim had his defence chief executed for disloyalty.
South Korean officials hope the agreement will help improve ties, but the two Koreas have a history of failing to follow through on past reconciliation accords, and their ties have been bad since conservatives took power in Seoul in 2008.
In an indication that North Korea’s hard-line stance hasn’t changed despite the agreement, Mr Kim said the deal was achieved not on the negotiating table but thanks to his country’s military capability based on its “nuclear deterrent”.