Authorities in North Korea arrested a teenager who was to begin training for the elite military unit that serves as personal security for Kim Jong Un, after the teen allegedly murdered his father, sources in the country told RFA.
The boy, a high school student in his junior year from Kimjongsuk county, Ryanggang province, was to join Department Five of the Korean Workers’ Party, from which male students are assigned to serve in the Supreme Guard Command, known also as Unit 963, tasked with protecting Kim and the rest of his family.
Female students in Department Five, meanwhile, become secretaries or nurses to the leadership and high-ranking officials.
Selection for the elite group is rigorous. A defector who had served in the Supreme Guard Command told Time in 2002 that not only must the guards be perfect physical specimens, recruiters will also look into their family history to assess loyalty.
Sources say the party committee in Kimjongsuk county might be in trouble themselves since the teen who they screened for Department Five is now in custody on suspicion of murder.
“On July 5, a 16-year-old boy from Kimjongsuk county high school strangled his father to death at his home,” a resident of the county told RFA’s Korean Service Tuesday.
“He was a final candidate for Department Five of the Central Party’s Organization and Guidance Department,” said the source.
According to the source, the boy and his father became embroiled in an argument, over his studies.
“The father, a math teacher at Kimjongsuk high school hit the computer while his son was using it to play computer games, yelling at him to study. In protest, the son strangled his father to death using the computer’s charger cord while they were fighting,” said the source.
“He was to be assigned to the Supreme Guard Command, which protects the leadership [of the Korean Workers’ Party]. The boy was waiting for the call from Pyongyang and was ready to leave on a moment’s notice,” the source said.
“But he killed his father, so the party committee of Kimjongsuk county charged him with felony murder,” the source said, adding, “He could be sentenced to life imprisonment or death.”
But the fact that the son had been approved by the county’s committee to join the Supreme Guard Command means they could also be held responsible.
“We can’t tell how far up the responsibility will go in this issue,” the source said.
An official in North Pyongan told RFA on Wednesday just how difficult selection for Department Five is, illustrating that the boy, who was a finalist, had fallen through many cracks.
“Each year Department Five instructs each provincial party to recommend candidates, and the provincial party tells the city and county committees to submit a list of prospective teens. Competition is fierce, with about 1 in every 100 on the list selected to train with Department Five,” the official said.
“After going through strict screening, Department Five assigns the boys to the Supreme Guard Command, whereas the girls are sent to the guest lodges or vacation homes for the country’s leaders,” the official added.
But once the candidate is selected, the local party committee is responsible for managing them before they are ready for training in Pyongyang.
“If any of the selected candidates get sick before going to Pyongyang, the local party will immediately exclude them and submit a new list of candidates as soon as they can,” the official said.
“But if the candidate commits a serious crime during this waiting period, the problem is different. Since this student is supposed to either please or protect the Highest Dignity, the crime is considered a ‘major fault’ for the party officials as they failed to properly evaluate the candidate’s sincerity and morality,” the official said, using an honorific term to refer to Kim Jong Un.
Elite status waning
Since the Kim Il Sung era (1948-1994) boys and girls selected for Department Five were paid high salaries and given special treatment. However they must live in complete isolation and cannot even meet their families because they are not permitted to take vacations or go on outings.
Now in the Kim Jong Un era, many students no longer see selection for Department Five as glamorous, meaning that candidates are more difficult to find. Local party committees have been known to select high school students in their junior year to groom as candidates for the privileged organization, sources have told RFA.
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.