Did North Korea’s Kim order the execution of a vice-premier for dozing off in a meeting?
Leader Kim Jong-un leader appears to have launched a new campaign to purge ‘disrespectful’ top aides
North Korea has executed its vice premier for education and rebuked two high-ranking officials, South Korea said on Wednesday, which, if true, would mark a new series of measures by leader Kim Jong-un to discipline top aides.
Kim took power in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, and his consolidation of power has included purges and executions of top officials, South Korean officials have said.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said the government had confirmed the execution of the education official, Kim Yong Jin, “through various channels” but declined to provide details.
Kim Yong-chol, the influential head of the North’s United Front Department which handles inter-Korean relations, was made to undergo “revolutionary measures,” Jeong told a briefing.
Another ruling party official in the propaganda department was also reprimanded, Jeong said.
South Korea, which runs several intelligence organisations mainly tasked with spying on North Korea, has a mixed record on reporting developments across the border. In May, a former North Korean military chief, who Seoul said had been executed, was found to be alive and holding several new senior-level posts.
Vice Premier Kim Yong-jin was executed for not keeping his posture upright at a public event, a South Korean government official later said. Kim Yong-chol was punished for his overbearing demeanour, the official added, but gave no details.
The execution, by firing squad, took place in July and Kim Yong-chol was re-educated at a rural farm for a month until mid-August, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said.
The mass-selling JoongAng Ilbo first reported on Tuesday that top figures had been punished, but identified the education official by a different name.
“He incurred the wrath of Kim after he dozed off during a meeting presided over by Kim. He was arrested on site and intensively questioned by the state security ministry,” it quoted a source as saying.
Kim Yong-jin was promoted to vice premier in 2012 after serving as education minister, according to a South Korean government database on key officials of the North.
Army general Kim Yong-chol headed the North Korean intelligence agency before taking his current position this year.
News of the reclusive state’s new purges comes after the South said North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London had defected and arrived in the South with his family, dealing an embarrassing blow to Kim’s regime.
North Korea rarely announces purges or executions, although state media confirmed the 2012 execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, widely considered the country’s second most powerful man, for factionalism and crimes damaging to the economy.
A former defence minister, Hyun Yong-chol, is also believed to have been executed last year for treason, according to the South’s spy agency.
Additional reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse