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Fresh Rumors of 'Purge' in North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a wake for the late Korean People's Army General Ri Ul Sol, on Nov. 8, 2015.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a wake for the late Korean People's Army General Ri Ul Sol, on Nov. 8, 2015.

For a North Korean official, not appearing at a state funeral can mean a fall from power.

Choe Ryong Hae, 65, was not listed among the 170 officials attending a North Korean state funeral this week. So, speculation began almost immediately about the fate of the 65-year-old.

Could it be that Choe had been purged from his job as a powerful aide to Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-Un?

“Given the North’s track record, it is unusual that a North Korean official such as Choe was not on the list,” said South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee.

Choe’s official title is secretary of the Workers’ Party.

Wednesday’s funeral is a major event. It honors Ri Ul Sol. He was 94-years-old and the marshal of Korea’s People’s Army. He fought alongside North Korean founder Kim Il-Sung against the Japanese in World War II.

Also notable is that Choe did not offer condolences at the wake for Ri.

Still, all this doesn’t mean that Choe has been removed from his post, said Kim Youg-Hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at South Korea’s Dongguk University.

A purged official is removed from official documentaries and news reports on state-run television. But Professor Kim says Choe was seen on TV just last week.

Kim said, “He repeatedly appeared in North Korean documentaries from November 4th to the 8th, so we need to see carefully whether he has been purged or not.”

There were also reports that Choe was removed from power in 2014. Those reports turned out to be wrong.

Since Kim Jong Un took power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011, he had purged many high-level officials.

Some 70 North Korean officials have been executed, according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. It also reports that 20 percent to 30 percent of senior party officials have been purged or replaced. On the military side, more than 40 percent of senior officers have been purged or replaced, as well.

I'm Anne Ball.

Brian Padden reported on this story for Bruce Alpert adapted this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

speculation -- n. ideas or guesses about something that is not known

purged – v. to remove people from an area, country, organization, etc., often in a violent and sudden way

condolences – n. a feeling or expression of sympathy and sadness especially when someone is suffering because of the death of a family member, a friend

wake – n. a time before a dead person is buried when people gather to remember the person who has died and often to view the body

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