On this date in 1985, North Korean Major Zin Mo was hanged in Buma’s Insein prison.
Eighteen months earlier nearly to the day, a huge bomb ripped apart Rangoon’s monumental mausoleum tribute to martyred founding hero Aung San.
The bomb was meant for visiting South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan,* who planned to lay a wreath at the site. But the infernal machine detonated too early, sparing its target — though 21 others lost their lives, 17 of them Korean, including Foreign Minister Lee Beom-seok.
The ensuing manhunt turned up three North Korean commandos, each of whom had been detailed short-fused grenades to commit spectacular suicide to evade capture.
Zin Kee-Chu started pulling stuff out of his bag. First a pile of money came out and while the policemen were temporarily distracted by the cash he then pulled out a hand grenade and detonated right there.
Their hand grenades had short 1 second fuses unlike our M-36 hand grenades with the longer 4 seconds fuses. So the explosion was immediate and some policemen and Captain Zin Kee-Chu himself were killed there. (Source)
But Major Zin Mo survived his explosives, albeit with devastating injuries, and fellow-captain Kang Min Chul lacked the fortitude to make the suicide attempt at all. Under none-too-gentle interrogation, Zin Mo kept his mouth shut and accepted his secret execution for the People’s Republic. Zin Kee-Chu didn’t have any better stomach to hang for his country than to blow himself up for it; he didn’t hang and lived out his life in Burmese captivity, having apparently cut a deal to tell all in exchange for his life.
There’s a phenomenal firsthand retrospective on these events, liberally illustrated, here, written by a present-day Burmese exile who was in Rangoon on the day the mausoleum was bombed.
Days earlier, Jang Sung-taek (alternatively, Song-taek, Sung-thaek, and various similar transliterations) had suffered an extremely visible fall when, in a Saddam-like twist, he was arrested on live television in the midst of a politburo meeting.
Image from KCTV (North Korea) shows Jang Sung-taek being arrested during a politburo meeting in Pyongyang.
Even so, the severity of his treatment was a surprise given his family tie to the supreme leader (he was the husband of Kim Jong-il‘s sister).
Long one of the secretive state’s top officials — his prestige recovered from two previous falls from favor in the late 1980s and early 2000s — Jang was among the officials involved in the transfer of power from the late Kim Jong-il to the young dictator Kim Jong-un. Though it is uncertain exactly what brought about his destruction — speculation ran to differing philosophies of economic development and/or raw power rivalry — a denounced by North Korea as “despicable human scum … worse than a dog” for his “thrice-cursed acts of treachery” and “decadent capitalist lifestyle.”
Jang was executed by shooting: machine gun fire in the “normal” version, or the more spectacular novelty of anti-aircraft fire by some accounts. (Reports to the effect that Jang was executed by being fed to a pack of wild dogs can still be found, but this story was fabricated by a satirist and its subsequent circulation cautions against a propensity to give credence to every lurid rumor about North Korea.)
Lee hit the lecture circuit critically discussing the situation north of the 38th parallel, and worked as an analyst for South Korean intelligence.
However, the KCIA also had Lee under surveillance, and came to believe that he was actually gathering intelligence to send to the north. Realizing his predicament, Lee fled with his niece for Cambodia. They were captured en route in Vietnam.
South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has, while stopping short of exonerating Lee, ruled his confinement illegal, and the self-incriminating statements he made in that environment insufficient evidence, and urged his case be re-tried. Lee’s niece served 20 years of a life sentence as his accomplice, but was released in 1989 and eventually won a 6.8 billion won wrongful imprisonment suit.
Sometime in early January — nobody seems to know quite when — North Korean intelligence official Ryu Kyong disappeared, apparently executed.
The number two man, and perhaps de facto number one man, in the State Security Department and a longtime Kim Jon-il ally, Ryu was reportedly “summoned by Kim Jong-il in early January and on his way to Kim’s residence, was arrested by members of the General Guard Bureau. He was interrogated and secretly executed.”
Speculative reason: the Leader viewed Ryu as having grown too powerful, and therefore as a potential rival to a clean succession for Kim Jong-un.
“With Ryu, many others were purged at the State Security Department,” a Seoul analyst said. “We can say that as he gained control of the department, Kim Jong-un needed to give jobs to people loyal to him.”
Jensen’s counterattack [during the Battle of Chochiwon in the opening days of the Korean War] in the afternoon [of July 10] uncovered the first known North Korean mass atrocity perpetrated on captured American soldiers. The bodies of six Americans, jeep drivers and mortar-men of the Heavy Mortar Company, were found with hands tied in back and shot through the back of the head. Infiltrating enemy soldiers had captured them in the morning when they were on their way to the mortar position with a resupply of ammunition. An American officer farther back witnessed the capture. One of the jeep drivers managed to escape when the others surrendered. (Source, specifically)
On an uncertain date in early to mid-January 2010, North Korea put to death husband and wife Jeong Dae-sung and Lee Ok-Geum for attempting to defect, along with family friend Song Gwang Cheol for assisting them.
Early that month, the People’s Republic announced the “50-day battle” against unreliable elements … like defectors.
The “battle’s” battle plan included “shooting everybody connected to South Chosun [i.e., South Korea] no matter what they did. This case seems to be a model part of that battle.”
Bad timing for Jeong and family: they escaped North Korea to China in July 2009, along with two young children and Jeong’s 63-year-old mother. Their intent was to make it to Mongolia, and there catch a flight to Seoul.
Instead, they were caught by Chinese authorities and repatriated,* and interrogated — we expect not too gently — into giving up their neighbor Song Gwang Cheol.
After the executions, surviving members of both families were hauled away to a prison camp and to internal exile.
* North Koreans in China are in a pretty unenviable position. Beijing considers them economic migrants, not refugees, and therefore repatriates them to dreadful fates in their homeland; and yet, because of the militarized border between the Koreas, anyone wanting to defect or escape basically has to go to China, and then through China — either on to Southeast Asia, or across the Gobi to Mongolia. (Mongolia “repatriates” illegal Korean migrants back to South Korea.)
This morning in Seoul, Mun Segwang (various similar transliterations possible) was hanged for an assassination attempt four months earlier.
Mun, a Japanese-reared Korean who needed a translator for his subsequent trial, tried to gun down dictator Park Chung-hee at a Independence Day speech Aug. 15.
Mun missed Park, but he did kill two others: a high school student; and, Park’s wife Yuk Yeong-su, the seated white-clad figure in the middle of the assassination footage who can be seen beginning to crumple on stage as the camera pans away.
South Korea figured him as the agent of a North Korean/Communist plot, which conclusion Japan and the North rejected vehemently. (Trial evidence also indicated that he read The Day of the Jackal.)
Park got lucky this time, but the autocrat was successfully iced five years later by his own intelligence chief. (Guess what happened to him.)
On this date in 2007, according to the Daily NK, five women were publicly tried, then immediately shot, in Hoiryeong Public Stadium in North Korea’s North Hamkyung province.
Their crime, “prostitution”, is supposed to be a euphemism for aiding refugees escaping to China in the area that also generated an infamous execution film broadcast on Japanese television in 2005. (And other death sentences earlier in 2007. North Korea is not enthusiastic about escapees.)
As usual with the insular state, details are hard to come by. The North Korean Human Rights Infringement Center claimed Pyongyang carried out 901 public executions in 2007; that figure would potentially make it the world’s #2 (after China) death penalty user, though Amnesty International doesn’t even venture a tally of North Korean executions.
According to the South Korean nonprofit Good Friends, he faced a snap tribunal and immediate execution in Suncheon this day, in a stadium with 150,000-plus* onlookers, part of a campaign of stepped-up public executions that Good Friends says (.doc) has been driven by the insular country’s decade-long famine. (See another one — illicitly filmed graphic video included — here.)
And he wasn’t the only one to depart the premises in a body bag. The stampede is said to have occurred after the proceedings as spectators were leaving; the cause, if there was one, is sketchily described, although some news reports call it a “melee.” Thirty-four others were reportedly injuried in the crush.