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Doubts over Kim's 'vanished' uncle

The claim by South Korea's spy agency that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un probably sacked the country's second-most-powerful official - his uncle - has been questioned by some experts.

Seoul's National Intelligence Service has mixed success in tracking what is going on inside what may be the world's most secretive, unfriendly and difficult-to-navigate country.

Some analysts dismiss the agency's claim this week that Kim has probably fired Jang Song Thaek, a man widely seen as a kingmaker who guided his young nephew as he consolidated power. It appears to be based largely on Jang's nearly month-long disappearance from North Korean media, something not unheard of in the leader's circle, and the agency's belief that two of his associates were publicly executed.

The agency is thought to get its information in part by closely monitoring Pyongyang's media for signs of change; by talking to defectors in Seoul, especially those who claim continuing ties with North Koreans; and by cultivating contacts in the North.

North Korean media have so far been silent, but soon could reveal whether the NIS is right. Pyongyang's political and military elite may gather on December 17 to mark the second anniversary of the death of Kim's father, Kim Jong Il.

-AP

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