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June 23, 2017

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Murder reveals NK leader's insecurity

SINGAPORE -- He was murdered in broad daylight, in the most crowded of places, in a foreign land.

The very public assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's estranged half brother Kim Jong Nam, allegedly by two women, in a Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday not only cemented the reclusive regime's "reign of terror" but also raised doubts about the young leader's grip on power, analysts say.

There is also concern that international condemnation may drive the North further into isolation, especially with the murder coming just a day after it drew rebuke for firing a new ballistic missile as a show of force against the United States and Japan reaffirming their security alliance.

Five years into his rule, Kim Jong Un has already orchestrated some 140 purges of senior officials. The killing of his half brother is the most high profile since the execution of their pro-China uncle Jang Song Thaek in December 2013.

Threats to His Leadership

Experts say the brash leader may have viewed his older sibling as a thorn and felt the need to eliminate him, especially when the brother was close to their uncle, who was branded a traitor. What's more, Kim Jong Nam — the eldest son of the late leader Kim Jong Il and once his heir apparent — was openly critical of the current regime and opposed dynastic succession.

"It is plausible to expect that Kim Jong Un would seek the elimination of potential threats, including family members who have made past critical comments regarding his leadership," Korea expert Scott Snyder from New York-based think-tank Council on Foreign Relations told The Straits Times. "As a potential alternative heir of the Kim family and former potential heir to Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Nam could be regarded as a distant threat."Dr. Chung Eun Sook, a senior research fellow at South Korean think-tank Sejong Institute, said Kim Jong Un might also have felt "insecure" knowing that his older sibling, who spent over a decade living outside North Korea, was more well versed in world affairs.

"Externally, it looks like Kim Jong Un has solidified his power, but I don't think he feels secure inside," she told The Straits Times.

Dr. Chung added that the assassination was "more than intentional," and that it must have received "direct or indirect approval from the dictator."

South Korea's spy agency said yesterday that Pyongyang agents have had a "standing order" to assassinate Kim Jong Nam since 2012. He had been living in exile in Beijing and Macau since falling out of favor with his father in the early 2000s, and was reportedly under protection by the Chinese authorities.

After his brother assumed power in late 2011, Kim Jong Nam, fearing for his life, went into hiding in Singapore and Malaysia. He was waiting at a Kuala Lumpur airport for his flight to Macau when he was attacked with a deadly liquid by two women who fled in a taxi. Malaysian police arrested a woman yesterday.

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