Kim Jong-un's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, executed for treason in North Korea
A special military tribunal found the second most powerful man in the secretive state guilty of treason, North Korean state media said
The North’s official KCNA news agency said Jang Song-thaek had been executed after a special military tribunal found him guilty of treason, only days after he was stripped of all posts and expelled from the ruling Workers’ Party.
Conservative lawmaker Lee In-je of the ruling Saenuri Party told South Korean media on Thursday that he believed two North Korean vice premiers, Ri Mu-yong and Ro Tu-Chol, have sought refuge in China.
Other unconfirmed media reports claim one or more of Jang’s aides had defected to South Korea. The South’s spy agency says it has no knowledge of any such defections.
South Korea expressed deep concerns about a series of occurrences in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), including the execution of Jang Song-Thaek, uncle-in- law of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said on Friday.
“The government is closely monitoring the series of incidents, which are happening in North Korea (DPRK), with deep concerns,” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do said in a televised statement.
North Korean politics are virtually impenetrable from outside and the reason could also easily be a falling out between Kim and his uncle, or even with Jang’s wife.
Watch: North Korean ministers denounce Kim Jong-un's uncle, Jang Song-thaek
If true, the execution caps a spectacular downfall for a man who had long been a fixture in North Korea’s leadership.
"The accused Jang brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state," KCNA said.
"The special military tribunal of the Ministry of State Security of the DPRK ... ruled that he would be sentenced to death according to it. The decision was immediately executed," it said, using the North’s title of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper also on Friday carried a photograph of Jang in handcuffs and being held by uniformed guards as he stood trial. It is not known how the sentence was carried out.
Jang was a vice chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission and a member of Workers’ Party politburo.
Married to the sister of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, Jang had been considered the man who could help his nephew establish himself in power but at the same time presented the greatest threat to the young and untested leader.
"This is a man who could have competently executed a coup in North Korea," said Mike Madden, an expert on the North’s power structure and author of the North Korea Leadership Watch website and blog.
"He knows how the body guards work, how the security forces in Pyongyang work, how state security works - this guy had very intimate knowledge about very key nodes of control in North Korea," Madden said.
Earlier this week, North Korea stripped Jang of his power and positions, accusing him of criminal acts including mismanagement of the state financial system, womanising and alcohol abuse.
"From long ago, Jang had a dirty political ambition. He dared not raise his head when Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were alive," KCNA said, referring to leader Kim’s grandfather and father, the previous rulers of the dynastic state.
"He began revealing his true colours, thinking that it was just the time for him to realise his wild ambition in the period of historic turn when the generation of the revolution was replaced," it said.
Regional powers have watched the purge of Jang and his associates - conducted in a rare, publicly prominent manner - for implications to regional security.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House was holding a ministerial meeting to review the developments.
The United States said it was following the developments in North Korea and consulting with allies in the region.
"If confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime," said Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council.
China's state-run news agency Xinhua also reported his execution. Jang was known to have had close ties with North Korea's main trading partner.
He accompanied Kim’s father and predecessor Kim Jong-il on three trips to China in 2010 and 2011 and is known to have led the country’s Commission for Joint Venture and Investment tasked with attracting foreign investments – mostly from China.
Last year, then Chinese President Hu Jintao praised Jang expressed his appreciation for Jang's contributions to "the development of good neighbourly relations between China and North Korea".
Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry described Jang's downfall as “an internal affair" in a statement last week.
North Korea is expected to hold the central mourning meeting on Monday to commemorate the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il, the South Korean newspaper Joongang Daily reports. Kim Jong-un is expected to pay his respects at is father's and grandfather's mausoleum, the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, it said.
Meanwhile, in a move seen as reinforcing Kim Jong-un's hold on power, North Korea released an upbeat music video called "We Will Only Know You" on Friday.
WATCH: Post-execution, country sings new tune for Kim Jong-un