• Kyodo

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An Osaka-based branch of a group under the umbrella of the pro-Pyongyang Korean residents’ association has taken the unusual step of protesting to the association headquarters by expressing opposition to the dismissal of its chief, group sources said Saturday.

Such a move is “extremely unusual in that it is an act of rebellion against the central body,” a group official said.

It could represent signs of cracks emerging in the hitherto solid organizational unity of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), which pledges allegiance to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

In February, Hong Gyong Ui, chairman of the Kinki branch of the Association of Korean Human Rights in Japan, criticized Chongryun for “concentrating too much authority” at the top. The remark was made on a Web site he and several dozen Chongryun activities created.

The association’s Tokyo head office subsequently sacked him as head of the branch. Hong’s criticism also sparked Chongryun to describe him as a “puppet” of forces antagonistic to it.

On the Web site, Hong and his supporters made proposals to revamp Chongryun, noting that a rising number of the association’s members are leaving it, and called for a review of Chongryun’s relations with Pyongyang, according to the sources.

Pro-Pyongyang Korean residents in Japan are reportedly a major source of hard currency for the North.

The association also suspended the activities of the Kinki branch.

On March 27, the branch held an emergency assembly where more than 90 percent of the participants voted their opposition to the head office’s decision to dismiss Hong, according to the sources.

Critics at the meeting said the central body has no right to impose personnel decisions or activities on regional units, the sources said.

The Chongryun head office declined to comment, saying that officials in charge were not available.

The Kinki branch is known to have encouraged Chongryun-linked groups to issue an apology over the North’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s shortly after Pyongyang admitted to the kidnappings in September 2002. Chongryun had previously denied such abductions.

The local branch has around 150 members. According to its Web site, they include lawyers and legal experts providing advice to Korean residents and working to protect their rights.

Some members of the Kinki branch say they want to press Chongryun leaders for their intentions on the matter when the association holds an annual convention in May.

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