Jong-un purges army top brass as coup threat grows
As sanctions feed public disillusionment and Kim Jong-un battles a growing resentment within the military, cracks may be appearing in the North Korean leader's footing.
The head of the North Korean army's politburo has been purged and three other senior officers have been either removed from office or are undergoing "re-revolutionisation education", with analysts suggesting that such a wide-ranging clear-out of its top ranks could harden the army's resistance to Mr Kim's leadership.
South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) briefed Seoul's government earlier this week about the shake-up in the North Korean administration, reporting that Hwang Pyong-so, head of the Korean People's Army politburo, has not been seen in public since attending an event marking the North's sixth nuclear test in September.
The NIS report stated that Mr Hwang has been locked in a power struggle with Choe Ryong-hae, Mr Kim's most trusted aide, and that Mr Choe used his position as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea to launch an investigation - the first of its kind in more than two decades - into senior members of the army.
The report added that Mr Kim has been looking for ways in which to bring the "unruly" military to order.
Defeated in the power struggle, Mr Hwang is understood to be undergoing re-education, along with the first deputy director of the army politburo and two deputy directors, who have also been demoted.
It is believed that an example is being made of Mr Hwang, who was previously the third-ranked leader of the regime.
"Mr Kim has shifted from the 'military first' policies of his father's government to placing priority on the party," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University and an authority on North Korea's ruling family.
"That has not been popular with the military, who have been used to having everything their own way", he told 'The Telegraph'. "And that includes priority for funds."