North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the unity of his nation has strengthened “a hundredfold” since his uncle and second-in-command Jang Song Thaek was executed last month.
“The party and revolutionary ranks have hardened after our party exposed and purged anti-party and anti-revolutionary factional groups,” Kim said in his New Year’s speech broadcast today on the Internet. Kim’s address was his first in public since Jang was convicted of treason, graft and factionalism by a military court on Dec. 12.
Believed to be about 30, Kim has purged a series of senior officials, including Jang and former general staff chief Ri Yong Ho, since taking control of the nation with a population of 24 million and its 1.2-million-strong army in late 2011 following the death of his father Kim Jong Il.
Jang, the son-in-law of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, had been promoted as a General and vice chairman of the National Defense Commission before Kim Jong Il’s death.
During today’s speech, Kim Jong Un said any war with South Korea would involve nuclear arms and warned the U.S. would “never be safe from harm” in any conflict on the Korean peninsula. Following its third atomic test in February last year, the North threatened nuclear missile attacks against the U.S., which stations 28,500 troops in the South.
The purge of Jang prompted South Korea to heighten combat readiness along the border with the North and President Park Geun Hye on Dec. 16 voiced worries of a provocation. Park today called a South Korean front-line warship to inform the captain to respond “firmly should the enemy make a provocation,” according to a Blue House statement.
Kim said North Korea will maintain its military-first policy, while calling for North and South Korea to improve relations by halting “slander” and other “actions that undermine reconciliation and unity.”
Kim also called for increased investment in agriculture to put more “meat, vegetables and mushrooms” on the tables of North Koreans, and said more effort is needed to prevent deforestation.