North Korean Supreme Guard Command Officer Purged for Listening to RFA

2018-11-07
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This undated photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 15, 2011 shows former North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (front row/17th L) and heir-apparent Kim Jong-Un (front row/15th L) when they visited Korean People's Army Unit 963.
This undated photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 15, 2011 shows former North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (front row/17th L) and heir-apparent Kim Jong-Un (front row/15th L) when they visited Korean People's Army Unit 963.
AFP PHOTO / HO / KCNA VIA KNS

An officer of North Korea’s elite Supreme Guard Command (also known as Unit 963) was reportedly purged last month for having listened to an RFA broadcast.

Sources say the officer, a member of the Command’s signal corps, was caught listening to RFA while on patrol. He was discovered by another officer.

A source from Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service on November 3 that “the officer was checking the communication center of a mine site, specifically to test a radio transmitter and receiver.”

“He tuned in to the specific frequency for RFA and was caught,” said the source.

“The purged officer is from Pyongsong, South Pyongan province. He’s in his mid-20s and [prior to the incident] had been recognized for his loyalty and exemplary adherence to principles,” the source said.

“He had been in charge of the Supreme Guard Command’s communications for quite a while, but after he was caught by his colleague, it was reported and he just disappeared,” the source said.

The Washington-based RFA broadcasts in nine languages to six countries seen as lacking free and independent media. Like most of the six countries, North Korea bans the outlet.

Consequences

The consequences for this guard’s illegal activity extended beyond the individual himself. The whole command was punished.

“After the incident, the Supreme Guard Command was closely investigated by the Organization and Guidance Department of the [Korean] Workers’ Party,” the source said. “They were under close surveillance for about a week and are still being reorganized,” added the source.

As a result of the investigation other officers in the elite fighting force have also gone missing.

“Some of the guys who were guarding the Workers’ Party Committee and Kumsusan Palace of the Sun were also purged, but there is no confirmed information about how many and who they might be,” the source said.

The purge was conducted on direct orders from the top.

“On October 20, [Kim Jong Un] delivered a special directive to the Organization and Guidance Department saying they were in charge of investigating the Supreme Guard Command and if they were to find anything, the directive suggested harsh punishment,” the source said.

“[They] are in serious trouble right now,” said the source.

Another source, also from Pyongyang briefly explained the history of purges in Unit 963.

Back in the days of Kim Il Sung, there were two divisions in the Guard Command. The first division was charged with protecting Kim Il Sung and the second, his son, Kim Jong Il,” the source said.

“But once Kim Il Sung died, the first division was thoroughly investigated and many of the guys were purged,” said the source.

Soviet-groomed Kim Il Sung founded North Korea in 1948 and ruled until his death in 1994, when his son, Kim Jong Il, took over and ruled until his death in 2011. The latter Kim’s son, Kim Jong Un is the third generation of the family dynasty that rules Pyongyang.

“The current Guard Command has near-absolute power, as they are in charge of Kim Jong Un’s security and protection, but now they are being investigated [because of the incident],” the source said. “But I doubt the officer listening to American radio is the real reason for the investigation. It all seems fishy to me.”

The source recalled how similar this was to previous purges under Kim Jong Un.

“Since [he] took power, the Organization and Guidance Department looked into the General Political Bureau. [Just as they did then] they will reorganize the Guard Command’s existing structure by getting rid of people they don’t like,” the source said.

After the Korean-language version of this story was published, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense told RFA Wednesday that they would look into the impact of foreign broadcasting on the North Korean military. Seoul’s Ministry of Unification told RFA that they are currently reviewing the matter.

Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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