North Korea defector: Hundreds of 'reformers' killed after Jang Song Thaek purge

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un applaudssr the launch of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Sept. 16. File Photo by Yonhap
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un applaudssr the launch of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Sept. 16. File Photo by Yonhap

NEW YORK, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- North Korea's Kim Jong Un ordered the massacre of hundreds of officers and their families following the purge and execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek in 2013, a former senior North Korean economic official said.

Speaking at the Asia Society in New York on Monday, Ri Jong Ho, the previous head of the Korea Daehung Trading Corp., managed by Room or Office 39, said he left the reclusive state when he became "disappointed" with the young leader's brutal methods of punishing reform-minded North Koreans.


Room or Office 39 is the secret North Korean Workers' Party organization in charge of maintaining the regime's foreign currency slush fund.

Ri has previously said Room 39 responsibilities may have been transferred to other departments since he sought asylum in the United States.


"The year I left, the Kim Jong Un regime, following the purge and execution of Jang Song Thaek, executed hundreds of officers affiliated with Jang, as well as their families," Ri said. "Thousands were dragged to political prison camps."

There was also an ordinance to "dry the seeds" of the accused, and children of suspects were routinely slaughtered as Kim consolidated his power in 2014, Ri said.

The North Korean leader's actions triggered doubts among the country's elite, many of them loyalists of Kim Jong Il, the leader's father.

"How can we follow the party, the leader, we faithfully followed all this time?" Ri said. "There was no future, so I defected with my family."

North Korea's nuclear weapons

Ri said Pyongyang's development of weapons of mass destruction is less of a threat than a sign the regime feels threatened by South Korea and the United States.

North Koreans "have always seen South Korea as the enemy," the defector said. "Because of the U.S.-South Korea military alliance, they believe they can always come under attack."

North Korea may bluster its way into the public eye, but the tactic may be a distraction hiding a regime with a weak economy --- and a justifiable fear of the outside world.


"South Korea can always swallow North Korea. There's a sense of threat there," Ri said. "That's why they develop nuclear weapons."

A sense of the South's economic superiority triggered suspicion of Seoul's Sunshine Policy in 2000, when former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung traveled to Pyongyang to hold a historical summit with leader Kim Jong Il.

The policy, which has been criticized by conservatives in the United States and South Korea, was in fact seen as a South Korean plan to absorb the North, Ri said.

Kim Jong Il had his own version of the South Korean leader's visit to his country, one that is not shared in Seoul.

Kim Dae-jung is "kneeling, begging for forgiveness with gifts of funds," Ri said, quoting a lecture given by the North Korean leader at the time.

"They are giving the gifts to us because we won the [Korean] war," the North Korean leader reportedly said, according to Ri.

Kim also told his senior officers to "never harbor illusions about the South."

Kim Jong Un lacks confidence

North Korea is raising anxieties in the United States following a war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim.


Some observers had warned of a possible conflict due to worsening relations between the two countries.

North Korean officials' warnings to test a hydrogen bomb above ground have spiked fears of conflict, but strong rhetoric is a North Korea tactic that has been in use for years, Ri said, and does not guarantee escalation.

"They're doing to the United States what they did to South Korea for decades," Ri said. "To be honest, Kim Jong Un does not have confidence."

North Korea defied expectations last week when the country stayed away from provocations on its Workers' Party anniversary.

Ri also said the regime's isolation from neighbors, including China, is a sign of vulnerability.

"That Kim Jong Un cannot reach out to China is a sign doing so will break down the hereditary regime," Ri said, pointing out the leaders of China and North Korea have yet to meet. "There was always a basic assumption that China could not be trusted."

Ri was referring to Kim's disregard for Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who he has called a "dog."

Xi told North Korea to stay away from nuclear tests, advice Kim has not heeded since 2013, Ri said.


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