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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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December 9th, 2013
05:26 PM ET

Expert: Kim Jong Un is 'not a reformer,' 'perp walk' ouster of uncle a first

(CNN) - In a move to squash dissent within North Korea's ruling elite, the once-powerful uncle of leader Kim Jong Un was removed from his government position at a Ruling Workers' Party politburo meeting Sunday, North Korea's state news agency KCNA confirmed.

"Jang Song Thaek has been purged before, but has never done a perp walk," said Christopher Hill, dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at Denver University.

Jang, who married Kim's aunt, was the vice chairman of North Korea's top military body and has often been pictured beside Kim, who has ruled North Korea since his father's death in 2011.

"What we're seeing is Kim Jong Un really wants to say, 'Hey, I'm in charge.' And he obviously is in a position to do that," said Hill, who led the U.S. delegation during the six-party talks with North Korea from 2005-2009.

Kim's uncle has been out of the picture for several months, so the ouster has his "fingerprints" all over it, says Hill.

"I don't think he has as much adult supervision today as he may have had before," said Hill of the young leader.

Everyone looked at Jang as the man who would keep the leadership together, but now that he is gone, it is unclear where the country is headed. As Hill says, "We're into kind of some uncharted waters at this point."

"One thing is pretty clear to me – that Kim Jong Un is not a reformer," said the former ambassador. "This is not someone who really has a kind of different view of how North Korea should act."

North Korea "deported" 85-year-old Korean War veteran Merrill Newman Saturday, after detaining him for more than a month.

"I have given considerable thought to this and have come to he conclusion that I just didn't understand that for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn't over and that even innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems if you're a foreigner," Newman said in a statement.

"It appears that he made some comments to people and the North Koreans kind of went to town on it," said Hill, who adds the isolated country had no business holding or detaining Newman.

"But you know, these kinds of things happen, and that's why people really ought to think very carefully about going to North Korea," said Newman.

Still imprisoned is Kenneth Bae, an American citizen arrested in November of last year and sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor. The North Korean regime says he was found guilty of "hostile acts" and attempts to topple the government.

The best way to handle Americans detained in politically sensitive countries like North Korea is to not talk about the issue publicly, said Hill. Doing so can be used by governments to justify further detention.

"I'm sure there are big efforts to get this young man out. He did nothing wrong. He ought to be released immediately," said Hill.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman is reportedly returning to North Korea in a few weeks. But Hill dismissed Rodman's amateur efforts at diplomacy.

"I was never a big fan of his basketball, and I'm not going to get on the diplomatic band wagon with Dennis Rodman," said Hill.

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