North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has dismissed several top officials in the wake of a recent standoff with South Korea, state media reported Friday, in personnel changes that suggest that Kim was holding them responsible for the confrontation that developed in a way that he did not expect.
The rival Koreas earlier this week threatened strikes against each other before agreeing on measures to reduce animosity. After land mines maimed two South Korean soldiers, Seoul resumed propaganda broadcasts critical of Kim’s authoritarian rule for the first time in 11 years, drawing a furious response from Pyongyang which threatened to destroy the South Korean loudspeakers.
South Korea blames North Korea for planting the mines, which North Korea has denied.
During a ruling Workers’ Party meeting, Kim hailed the agreement, saying it provided what he called a “crucial landmark occasion” to put “catastrophic” inter-Korean relations back on a track of reconciliation and trust, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency.
But Kim still dismissed several members of the party’s Central Military Commission, which handled the standoff, a KCNA dispatch said.
It gave no reasons for the dismissals, but outside analysts said they may have been sacked because they misjudged that the mine blast would not trigger such strong countermeasures by South Korea as the propaganda broadcasts.
North Korea is intolerant of any outside criticism of its political system, and observers say North Korea was worried that the broadcasts heard over the border would demoralize frontline troops and residents and eventually weaken Kim’s leadership.
“North Korea could have thought about some sort of heightened tension but not like this,” said Chang Yong Seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies.
South Korea switched off its loudspeakers Tuesday after North Korea expressed “regret” that the South Korean soldiers were injured by the mine explosion. It was considered as a carefully crafted, though vague, wording, with Pyongyang still denying it laid the mines while South Korea describing the term “regret” as an apology.
Since taking power upon the death of his dictator father Kim Jong Il in late 2011, Kim Jong Un has vowed to revive his country’s moribund economy and boost standards of living even as he pushes development of nuclear-armed missiles condemned by neighboring countries and the United States.
During the party meeting Kim also ordered soldiers to help a recently flooded city, a sign of his need to show his people he cares about a decrepit economy.