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Kim Jong-un’s feeling of vulnerability was highlighted in reports that he had orchestrated a shake-up in the upper echelons of his country’s military. Reports emerged in 2018 claiming that Kim replaced his three top military officials with younger figures who appear to be more open-minded about the nation’s nuclear-weapons development. The officers were “known for their unquestioning support” of Kim and to be “flexible enough to accept the massive changes that may come from any deal with” US President Donald Trump, Reuters reported citing an unnamed “senior US official” and several South Korean experts on North Korea.
Reuters added: “US officials believe there was some dissent in the military about Kim’s negotiations with South Korea and the United States, a complete reversal of the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and historic hostility.”
They added that Kim might even be trying to staff the upper ranks of the military with loyalists to make sure there’s no coup attempt while the long-reclusive leader was 3,000 miles away with Trump in Singapore.
President Trump has tried to deter North Korea from its nuclear programme, but two crunch summits in 2019 fell apart.
In February 2019, the two met in Hanoi, Vietnam, and talks initially looked promising when a reporter asked Kim whether he was considering denuclearisation.
He responded: “If I’m not willing to do that, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
However, just hours later a scheduled lunch between Trump and Kim, as well as a potential joint signing ceremony, was cancelled as talks ultimately fell flat.
Trump said at the time: “We had to walk away from that particular suggestion. We had to walk away from that.”
They also met in Stockholm in last October – but the talks in Sweden broke off with the North’s envoy saying the US failed to show flexibility.
Fears of opposition within his own ranks has been a feature of Kim’s leadership, despite his seemingly tight grip on the country.
When Kim Jong-un became leader of North Korea in 2011, a series of battles occurred within the leadership of the country as some resisted their new ‘Supreme Leader’.
The main body of resistance came within the North Korean army, with a former officer revealing a terrifying story which highlighted the growing hostility.
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He told the Telegraph in 2011: “I killed a three-star company commander, the same rank as me.
“He was the head of the faction supporting Kim Jong-un. There were two fights. In the first fight, they surrounded us and arrested a lot of people.
“But I got away and gathered others from the barracks. We found them and I shot the commander. After that, I escaped.”
The officer also saw growing resistance against their new leader – Kim Jong-un – at the time.
He continued: “It was before he came to power, but we all knew for a long time that he was going to be made the leader.
“There were a lot of people who were against him. But everyone in that faction got arrested after he came to power.”
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