SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: A top general in North Korea was executed this month on corruption charges, around the time its leader, Kim Jong Un, warned the party and military elites against abuse of power and other misdeeds, a South Korean official said Wednesday.
The general, Ri Yong Gil, chief of the North Korean army’s general staff and No. 3 in its hierarchy, was executed on charges of “factionalism, abuse of power and corruption” in the latest episode of Kim’s “reign of terror,” the official said.
The official agreed to confirm the execution, first reported by the South Korean news media, only on the condition of anonymity because the information involved government intelligence. Although South Korea’s National Intelligence Service did not confirm it, many South Korean news outlets reported that Ri had been executed, citing an unidentified intelligence source.
Kim convened a joint meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party and the Committee of the Korean People’s Army on Feb. 2 and 3. There, he criticized “the practices of seeking privileges, misuse of authority, abuse of power and bureaucratism,” according to the Korean Central News Agency of the North.
The South Korean news media quoted the unnamed intelligence source as saying that Ri, a career army officer, might have been targeted for purging after resisting the control the ruling Workers’ Party has reasserted over the military under Kim.
Ri was one of the most prominent generals under Kim, frequently accompanying him to important state events. But the general’s name disappeared from the North Korean news media after mid-January. It was not among the lists of top officials who the North Korean news media said attended the party meeting this month or a large gathering in Pyongyang, the capital, on Monday to celebrate the country’s launching of a satellite a day earlier.
Ri’s reported execution could not be independently confirmed. North Korea rarely reports purges of top officials.
Since taking power in late 2011, Kim has frequently reshuffled the top ranks of his party and the military, and purged or executed scores of senior officials, according to the South Korean spy agency. Analysts in the South have said that Kim has ruled with a mix of terror and rewards, as did his father, Kim Jong Il, to maintain a totalitarian grip on power and remove potential challenges to his authority.
The most famous victim of that tactic was Kim’s own uncle, Jang Song Thaek. Jang, long considered North Korea’s No. 2 official and Kim’s mentor, was executed in 2013 on charges of stealing state funds and plotting to overthrow his nephew. His other crimes, according to the North, included showing disrespect for Kim during a political gathering by “unwillingly standing up from his seat and halfheartedly clapping.”
Kim also executed Gen. Hyon Yong Chol, the minister of the People’s Armed Forces, last April with an anti-aircraft gun, the South Korean spy agency said. The 66-year-old general was branded a traitor after he dozed off during military events and second-guessed Kim’s orders, it said.
After Hyon’s execution, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced North Korea’s “grotesque, grisly, horrendous, public displays of executions on a whim and fancy by the leader against people who were close to him, sometimes on the flimsiest of excuses.”