The New York Times has a fascinating report about the story behind the execution of Kim Jong-un's uncle, Jang Song-thaek: According to the report, Kim ordered the death of Jang and his top lieutenants because of a dispute over North Korea's highly profitable clam and crab fishing grounds, which saw the North Korean military humiliated by Jang's loyalists.
Jang, who, until a few months ago, was considered the second most powerful man in North Korea, gained control of the prized fishing grounds shortly after Kim took power in 2011. Previously, the profits from the fishing grounds, along with other companies, went directly to the North Korean military, which used the money to feed and shelter their troops and pay kickbacks to the Kim family. But Kim, in an attempt to revitalize the North Korean economy, handed over control of several businesses to his cabinet, with his uncle receiving control of the fishing grounds. Profits from the operations went to Jang's bank account, or to the accounts of government departments that he controlled. Jang also dominated the lucrative coal trade with China.
But when Kim witnessed the emaciated state of soldiers stationed near North Korea's western sea border this fall, he ordered his uncle to return the clamming and crabbing grounds to the military. Jang refused and when 150 or so North Korean soldiers arrived to take over the operation, Jang's loyalists fought them off, reportedly killing two soldiers.
The North Korean military returned with more troops and defeated Jang's forces, retaking the fishing operation. Not long after, Kim ordered that two of his uncle's lieutenants be executed by firing line, though they weren't killed with rifles; instead their executioners used anti-aircraft machine guns. Several days later, Jang was tried, convicted, and shot to death, though he was spared the anti-aircraft guns.
[Image of Jang (third from right) with Kim Jong-un via AP]