North Korea executed Vice Premier Kim Yong-jin last month, South Korea government officials have said.
According to Seoul’s unification ministry, Kim Yong-jin was one of Pyongyang’s vice premiers and in charge of education.
Officials did not explain how they got the information. Seoul’s record on reporting such developments is patchy.
In May, North Korean military chief Ri Yong-gil said to have been executed was found to be alive and attending official events.
Ri Yong-gil was widely reported to have been executed in February but when he made an appearance at North Korea’s party congress it highlighted just how difficult it is to get accurate information from the secretive country.
Seoul’s unification ministry, the government department which manages relations with North Korea is, along with the spy agency, South Korea’s primary source of information about Pyongyang.
The unification ministry also said a prominent minister responsible for intelligence and inter-Korean relations, Kim Yong-chol, had been sent for re-education along with another official, named as Choi Hwi, for a month in mid-July.
North Korea itself very rarely provides confirmation of such reports. The last execution Pyongyang released official information about is thought to be the purge of kim Jong-un’s uncle, Chang Song-thaek in 2013.
The strongest confirmation is usually that an executed official simply disappears from media reports.
If this report turns out to be untrue, Kim Yong-jin may well appear in public or be listed as in attendance at a major public event in Pyongyang.
Another clue to his fate might emerge if North Korea announces a replacement vice premier. Again, this does not necessarily mean he has been executed.
Ri Yong-gil was replaced as military chief but turned up months later, albeit with an apparent demotion.
Kim Yong-jin and Ri Yong-gil have held high office and were mentioned in official statements and dispatches from Pyongyang.
While less is known about Kim Yong-jin, Kim Yong-chol has often been seen alongside Kim Jong-un in photographs and is thought to be close to him. At the party congress in May he was named as head of national intelligence.
North Korean officials are frequently sent for re-education, a process that can sometimes be seen as “corporate training” with some emerging from re-education with higher office while others are demoted.
The statement from Seoul’s unification ministry comes a day after an unconfirmed report in a South Korean newspaper said two different high-ranking officials in the departments of education and agriculture had been executed.
If Kim Yong-jin’s execution is confirmed, it would be just the latest in a series of purges and executions of top officials that Kim Jong-un has enacted since he came to power in 2011.
According to unconfirmed South Korean reports, North Korea’s military chief of staff, General Ri Yong-gil, has been executed.
However, senior officials in North Korea have previously been absent from view for long periods only to reappear.
Ri Yong-gil would be the latest of several high-ranking North Korea officials to be purged under leader Kim Jong-un.
South Korean media reported that Gen. Ri Yong-gil had been executed earlier this month for corruption and “factional conspiracy”.
Last week, a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party attended by Kim Jong-un discussed how to deal with corruption.
While no individuals were mentioned, state news agency KCNA reported at the time that those at the meeting criticized “the practices of seeking privileges, misuse of authority… and bureaucratism manifested in the party”.
According to analysts, Gen. Ri Yong-gil had fallen from favor first surfaced late last year.
If this is the case, Ri Yong-gil will be the fourth chief of staff since Kim Jong-un took over in 2011, as opposed to three during his father Kim Jong-il’s 17 years in power.
The reports of Ri Yong-gil’s execution come days after North Korea launched a long-range rocket, which critics say is a test of banned missile technology.
On January 6, North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test.
Some observers say the regime’s recent behavior may be linked to Kim Jong-un wanting to shore up his position ahead of a rare congress of the Workers’ Party due in May.
In May 2015, South Korea’s spy agency told parliament that North Korea’s Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol had been executed for showing disloyalty to Kim Jong-un.
The agency said Hyon Yong-chol was killed by anti-aircraft fire in front of an audience of hundreds – it later said it was yet to verify the information. That news came weeks after the reported execution of 15 senior officials.
Also on February 10, South Korea announced it was suspending operations at the jointly-run Kaesong industrial park in North Korea following the North’s recent rocket launch and nuclear test.
Seoul said all operations at the Kaesong complex would halt, to stop North Korea using its investment “to fund its nuclear and missile development”.
The suspension will mean North Korea will lose the income it currently gains from the site, which comes to $100 million a year.
North Korea’s vice-premier Choe Yong-gon was executed in May on the orders of supreme leader Kim Jong-un, the South Korean government says.
Choe Yong-gon was executed after he “expressed discomfort against the young leader’s forestation policy”, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.
Close to 70 officials have been killed under Kim Jong-un’s rule, Yonhap says.
North Korea rarely confirms South Korea’s reports of executions.
Choe Yon-gon was last seen publicly in December, South Korea’s unification ministry said.
The ministry said it was “closely monitoring the possibility of any changes in Choe’s circumstances”.
Few details about the execution were given by Yonhap, which is often first to report news from North Korea.
Choe Yong-gon was deputy minister of construction and building material industries, and had represented North Korea in trade talks in Seoul in the mid-2000s.
He was appointed as one of seven vice-premiers in June 2014, and his promotion was seen by one analyst as a sign Pyongyang was keen to maintain close ties with South Korea.
In April, South Korea’s intelligence agency said Kim Jong-un had ordered the execution of 15 officials in the first four months of the year.
Among them was a forestry official who complained about the leader’s forestation plan, the agency said at the time, but it is not clear if this man was Choe Yong-gon.
In May, the agency said North Korean Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol was reportedly executed by anti-aircraft fire for apparently showing disloyalty to the leader.
The reports of the killing of Choe Yong-gon for disagreeing with Kim Jong-un’s forestry policy bring into focus a program that is closely followed by the leader.
North Korea is suffering its worst drought in a century and close to a third of rice paddies have dried up.
Radio Free Asia says the country launched an intensive “greenification” program last year, with more power granted to every province’s forestry department.
In a speech in February, Kim Jong-un delivered a speech in which he said: “At present, the forests of the country can be said to have reached a crossroads – whether to perish for ever or to be restored.”
Kim Jong-un also criticized officials for seeking to respond to problems caused by flooding, rather than prevent flooding in the first place by planting more trees.
According to new reports, the manager of a terrapin farm near Pyongyang, was shot on the orders of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un following a disappointing tour of the farm in May 2015.
The farmer was shot and killed after Kim Jong-un toured the facility in May. The tour left Kim Jong-un furious at the number of terrapin deaths and the failure to breed freshwater lobsters, sources inside the country told the Daily NK, a website run by Koreans from both sides of the border and funded by NGOs who emphasize democracy and human rights.
The farm manager attempted to explain that the terrapins had died due to a lack of electricity, water and food for the terrapins. Regardless of the reasons behind the terrapin deaths, Kim Jong-un apparently decided to set an example by executing the farmer, according to another Daily NK source who corroborated the story.
At the time of the inspection the official state website KCNA reported that Kim Jong-un was unhappy with the breeding of lobsters which had been given to the farm to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of North Korea in October, but information about the death of the manager only emerged earlier this week.
In May 2015, Kim Jong-un also ordered the execution of the North Korean defense minister Hyon Yong-chol, who was charged with treason after falling asleep at an event where the Supreme Leader was the guest of honor.
Kim Jong-un has ordered the execution of 15 other state officials for challenging his authority in 2014.
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