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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs