If confirmed, they would be the latest in a series of killings, purges and dismissals carried out since the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, took power in late 2011.
North Korea is a closed, authoritarian country with a state-controlled press that often makes it difficult for outsiders, and even North Korean citizens, to know what’s happening in the government.
Rival 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, reports the Associated Press
Jeong Joon Hee, a spokesman for Seoul’s Unification Ministry, told reporters Wednesday that Kim Yong Jin, a vice premier on education affairs in North Korea’s cabinet, had been executed. Jeong gave no further details, including why and when his ministry believes he was executed and how it obtained the information.
The news comes a day after it was reported two other government officials had been executed by anti-aircraft gun.
One of the men was accused of simply falling asleep during a meeting.
The North Korean leader was furious after Ri Yong-jin dozed off in his presence and was killed in early August, according to South Korean media.
The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said: “He was arrested on-site and intensively questioned by the state security ministry.
“He was executed after other charges, such as corruption, were found during the probe.”
The other official, former agriculture minister Hwang Min, was accused of proposing policies that directly challenged Kim Jong-un’s leadership.
JoongAng Ilbo suggests the executions, carried out at a military academy in the capital, Pyongyang, are part of a “new reign of terror” sparked by “a series of defections by senior officials that has rekindled talk of instability and disunity among the North Korea elite”.
AA guns are heavy-duty high-caliber machine guns that can “pulverise” a human body according to to Greg Scarlatoiu and Joseph Bermudez Jr from the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), quoted in the Washington Post.
Such executions are said to be carried out on firing ranges like the one pictured below.
Little is known about Kim Yong Jin, who was last mentioned by North Korea’s state news agency on June 15, when it reported he attended an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s taekwondo federation.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Kim was executed by firing squad in July for unspecified anti-revolutionary and factional acts. Yonhap, citing an unidentified Seoul official, said Kim first faced an investigation because of the way he was seated during a June meeting attended by Kim Jong Un.
Kim Jong-Un, believed to be his early 30s, is revered at the center of an intense cult of personality at home, with state TV showing aging senior officials kowtowing and kneeling down before him. Last year, South Korea’s spy agency said Kim had his defense chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about him and sleeping during a meeting he had presided over.
Jeong said Kim Yong Chol, a top ruling Workers’ Party official in charge of anti-Seoul spy operations, had also been ordered to undertake “revolutionary re-education,” in a reference to the banishment at a rural collective farm or a coal mine. Jeong said another senior party official dealing with propaganda affairs, Choe Hwi, was still on a similar “revolutionary re-education” program.
Seoul officials believe Kim Yong Chol, director of the party’s United Front Department, orchestrated two attacks that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010, when he headed the North Korean army’s intelligence agency. Kim disappeared from the public eye for about 50 days before the North’s state media on Sunday mentioned his name in a list of officials who attended ceremonies marking the Youth Day.
Yonhap said Kim Yong Chol was banished at a rural farm for about one month between mid-July and mid-August because of alleged high-handed attitudes and attempts to expand his United Front Department’s authority too much. Yonhap said he was recently reinstated.
The rival Koreas have shared the world’s most heavily fortified border since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, and they bar ordinary citizens from exchanging phone calls, letters and emails without special permission.
Due to the secretive nature of the North Korean regime such stories are difficult to verify but numerous reports of similar gruesome executions have filtered out over the years.
In 2013 80 people were said to have been machine-gunned for watching foreign TV and owning Bibles.
A year earlier vice-minister of the army, Kim Chol, was reportedly killed by mortar rounds after he was accused of getting drunk during the 100-days set aside for North Koreans to reflect on the life of the nation’s former leader Kim Jong-il.
Kim Jong-un told the executioners to leave “no trace of him behind, down to his hair.”