Is Kim Jong-un really in charge?

There is a school of thought to suggest that Kim John-un isn’t really in charge in North Korea anymore.

Apparently his dad’s goons are.

An elite group of exiles from North Korea gathered in September in the Netherlands to discuss the state of the regime they used to serve. The conference included top diplomats, an ex-senior official of the Ministry of Security, and a high-ranking military officer, but the keynote address was given by Jang Jin-sung, formerly a key member of Kim Jong-il’s propaganda machine. Included in Jang’s speech was a surprising assertion: North Korea is in the midst of a civil war.

According to Jang ? a former counterintelligence official and poet laureate under Kim Jong-il ? members of the government’s Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), a powerful group of officials that once reported only to Kim Jong-il, have stopped taking orders from his son, Kim Jong-un. The OGD, Jang says, has effectively taken control of the country, and a conflict is simmering between factions that want to maintain absolute control over the economy and others seeking to gain wealth through foreign trade and a slightly more open market.

“On one hand, it’s people who want to maintain a regime monopoly,” Jang told VICE News through a translator in an interview Thursday. “On the other hand, it’s not like people are fighting against the regime, but in a policy sense they want to take advantage to get influence. It’s not actually consciously civil war, but there are?these two incompatible forces at play.”

Jang’s statements come during a moment of peak curiosity about the hermit kingdom. Kim Jong-un ? the portly 31-year-old who assumed the title of Supreme Leader after his father’s death in 2011 ? has been absent from public view for nearly a month. He was last seen walking with a pronounced limp during a July ceremony commemorating the death of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. He typically presides over the Supreme People’s Assembly, a rubber-stamp parliament, but missed the meeting in early September, and was replaced by a propaganda video that again showed him limping. “Despite some discomfort, our Marshal continues to come out and lead the people,” the film’s narrator said.

That video is hilarious…pure propaganda but from the outside utterly hilarious. Watching the fat little leader waddling along in front of his fat little generals is too funny.

It is believed that Kim Jong-un is but a puppet.

Jang, however, believes the coup actually happened in 2013, and says Kim Jong-un is only serving as a puppet leader with officials from the OGD pulling the strings. After going into exile, Jang became a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul, and authored a memoir, Dear Leader, about his time serving Kim Jong-il. Jang is also the founder and publisher of New Focus International, an independent outlet for North Korea news and analysis. Combined with his knowledge of the inner-workings of North Korean bureaucracy, Jang says he maintains contact with sources inside the regime that provide him with current information.

According to Jang, the coup coincided with the execution of Jang Sung-taek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle by marriage. A longtime political rival of the OGD but considered untouchable because of his family ties to Kim Jong-il, Jang Sung-taek was officially charged with “consolidating his own power with factional maneuvering” and selling off state resources at below market value for personal profit. He was summarily purged last December, and a popular but false rumor had him being eaten alive by dogs.

“When Jang Sung-taek was executed that was, basically, that totally broke everything,” Jang said. “You just can’t touch a Kim family member publicly? It’s the OGD’s claim to legitimacy. It’s them saying no one is more legitimate than them. By Jang dying, Kim Jong-un is now surrounded by the OGD.”

Jang’s New Focus International reported on the “coup” in December and dissected the politics that were at play. According to the New Focus International report, the OGD has exercised virtual control over North Korea since its foundation by Kim Jong-il in the early 1990s. Other members of the government and the military became “honorary power holders and proxies,” while “the men who exercised power on behalf of Kim Jong-il remained behind the scenes through the parallel OGD structure then as now.” It described Kim Jong-un as “the avatar of the Kim family cult,” and, “the legitimizing face of a state ruled by [the] OGD.”

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