North Korea confirms new coal minister following purge of Kim's uncle

North Koreans celebrate the New Year by visiting statues of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung and former leader Kim Jong Il at Mansudae hill in Pyongyang, Jan 1 2014. North Korea has replaced its coal minister, apparently after the shock execution of
North Koreans celebrate the New Year by visiting statues of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung and former leader Kim Jong Il at Mansudae hill in Pyongyang, Jan 1 2014. North Korea has replaced its coal minister, apparently after the shock execution of leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, who had been accused of attempting to take control of the country's lucrative coal export business. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea has replaced its coal minister, apparently after the shock execution of leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, who had been accused of attempting to take control of the country's lucrative coal export business.

Pyongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency introduced Mun Myong Hak as "Minister of Coal Industry" as it was reporting on the 30th anniversary of the Pukchang Area Coal-Mining Complex in the western province of South Phyongan on Monday.

The last time the North's coal minister was mentioned in the country's state media was a year ago, when Mr Rim Nam Su was in office.

The shock purge and execution of Mr Jang Song Thaek, the once-powerful uncle and political regent to young leader Kim Jong Un, was sparked by his attempts to take over the North's coal export industry, South Korea's spy chief Nam Jae Joon said last month.

The moves by Jang contributed to the North's economic troubles, Mr Kim Jong Ha, chief secretary of the secretariat of the cabinet, said last month in an interview with the Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan.

The Choson Sinbo report also indirectly confirmed Mr Kim Jong Ha had replaced Mr Kim Yong Ho following Jang's downfall.

It is not known what became of Mr Kim Yong Ho or Mr Rim Nam Su.

Last week, Pyongyang's Chosun Chungang TV introduced Mr Kim Yong Kwang as the new Minister of Metal Industry.

"Probably, these are all part of a government reshuffle related with Jang's purge," Dr Chang Yong Seok, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification at the Seoul National University, told AFP.

Further changes affecting higher posts including the powerful National Defence Commission (NDC) are likely to come in April when the North's rubber-stamp parliament opens, he said.

Jang was one of deputy chairmen at the NDC, currently chaired by the young leader.

Mr Kim Jong Ha said North Korea would move to independently produce and reprocess coal and other natural resources for exports.

"The cabinet will fulfill its function properly as a control tower of the economy," he said, adding that it was trying to regain control over projects and put them in order.

The impoverished but mineral-rich North has sought for years to bolster its crumbling economy by increasing exports of minerals, especially to China.

A military court which handed Jang a death sentence found him guilty of "committing such acts of treachery as selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices", according to Pyongyang's state media.

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