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Coal exports behind N. Korea purge: spy chief

SEOUL--The shocking purge and execution of the North Korean leader's uncle stemmed from his attempts to take control of the country's lucrative coal export business, South Korea's spy chief told lawmakers Monday.

Jang Song-Thaek, the once-powerful uncle and political regent to young leader Kim Jong-Un, was executed on Dec. 12 on charges that included plotting a coup and corruption.

The execution — the biggest political upheaval since Kim took power two years ago — sparked speculation that Jang had lost out in a power struggle with hardline army generals.

But Nam Jae-Joon, the head of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, said Jang's attempts to secure control of state-run natural resources businesses played a big part in his downfall.

Nam, briefing members of parliament's intelligence committee on the situation in the North, also said the young ruler currently “appears to have no problem” with his grip on power — but may stage armed provocations against the South sometime between January and March to rally domestic unity.

“Jang intervened too much in lucrative state businesses ... related to coal, which drew mounting complaints from other (related) state bodies,” lawmaker Jung Chung-Rae, a member of the committee, quoted Nam as saying at the closed hearing.

Jang for years handled the country's mineral exports, which go mostly to China.

The impoverished but mineral-rich North has sought for years to bolster its crumbling economy by increasing exports of coal and other minerals, which account for the bulk of its exports to China.

But Jang and his associates angered other top party officials by rapidly expanding their control over the coveted mineral businesses, Jung quoted Nam as saying.

“Kim Jong-Un was briefed about it ... and issued orders to correct the situation,” Jung told reporters.

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