News / Asia

N. Korea Photo Hints at Kim Uncle's Enhanced Influence

North Korea defense commission vice chairman Jang Song Taek is seen in a dark brown uniform third from left in the first row at a ceremony in Pyongyang, September 9, 2012. (Rodong Sinmun photo)
North Korea defense commission vice chairman Jang Song Taek is seen in a dark brown uniform third from left in the first row at a ceremony in Pyongyang, September 9, 2012. (Rodong Sinmun photo)
A recent photograph of North Korea's leader and his military entourage is stirring speculation that Kim Jong Un's uncle may have a new role.

In a country where the smallest details involving public appearances by North Korea's leader are choreographed, a uniform change for a key insider is drawing notice. The vice chairman of the national defense commission, Jang Song Taek, has switched his military uniform from light to dark brown.

All of the other top brass seen during a ceremony Sunday to mark the country's 64th anniversary were clad in light brown.

Elite unit

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper in South Korea, quoting an intelligence official here, says this means Jang, a four-star general who is the uncle of the new, young leader, Kim Jong Un, is now in charge of the most elite bodyguard unit.

The General Guard Bureau is at the core of the Kim family dynasty.

Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Reunification Studies, says Jang's dark brown uniform is not designed for the general military and this indicates the general is likely controlling an elite unit, perhaps the leadership guard.

Chang explains that the guards used to be divided into two different units under Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il but now it is unified with the primary duty to protect Kim Jong Un.

Analysts say the unit, which is linked to the army but not under its control, has tens of thousands of elite personnel, including intelligence operatives, with control over anti-artillery batteries, missiles, combat tanks and armored limousines. It would also be tasked with fending off any internal coup attempts.

Putting the man in the dark brown uniform in charge would further cement family ties between the elite unit's leadership and the Kim dynasty.

Power couple

Jang is married to the daughter of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung.

Sixty-six year-old Kim Kyong Hui herself is also a four-star general - the first woman in North Korea to hold that rank - and seen in recent photographs looking comparatively frail.

Elite defectors from the North frequently describe the only sister of the late Kim Jong Il as a powerful influence not only over her husband, but her nephew, as well. They say she has a reputation for being ill-mannered and struggling with alcoholism.

The couple has been described as North Korea's top power couple but they were out of the limelight in the middle of the previous decade, apparently purged. But they fully resurfaced several years ago, and began taking on more influential roles after Kim Jong Il began grooming his youngest son to succeed him.

Second in command

Analyst Chang says based on Jang's recent meeting with top officials in China and being among those to greet a religious delegation last week from South Korea, he can now be regarded as the second-in-command in Pyongyang controlling affairs of state.

The researcher says Jang, who is more outward looking than others of his generation, may be influencing economic and political initiatives that could bring about change in the impoverished country.

Kim Jong Un, who is not yet 30 years of age, is regarded to have firmly secured his grip on power after succeeding his father who died at the age of 69 last December.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs