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.
It is difficult to independently verify news about top officials in the North or the inner circle around the leader. Some previous reports of executions and purges in the reclusive state have proven inaccurate.
Vice Premier Kim Yong Jin was executed for not keeping his posture upright at a public event, a South Korean government official later told Reuters. 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 South’s comments follow a news report on Tuesday that the North had executed two high-ranking officials for disobeying leader Kim Jong Un.
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.