North Korea Defense Chief Said Put to Death in Latest of Spate of Executions

2015-05-13
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North Korean Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol (R) standing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (front L) in Pyongyang, Feb. 16, 2015.
North Korean Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol (R) standing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (front L) in Pyongyang, Feb. 16, 2015.
AFP

North Korea executed Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol last month for acts of disloyalty to leader Kim Jong Un, including falling asleep during a meeting attended by Kim, South Korea's spy agency told parliament on Wednesday.

South Korean lawmakers were quoted by Seoul's Yonhap news agency as saying Hyon, who was close to Kim and had appeared in state media a day before his execution, was shot by anti-aircraft fire in a public execution on April 30 watched by hundreds of officials.

According to Yonhap, Han Ki Beom, the deputy director of the National Intelligence Service, told South Korean lawmakers in a closed-door parliamentary session that Hyon, number 2 in the military after Kim, was seen dozing off during a military event attended by Kim and did not carry out Kim’s instructions.

The report of Hyon's execution came weeks after NIS told lawmakers that 15 senior officials had been executed so far in 2015, including two vice-ministers who had challenged Kim over forestry policy and construction plans and members of an elite musical troupe.

The reported method of Hyon's execution -- anti-aircraft gunfire at close range at a military training center -- mirrors that in reported public killing in October of an unknown number of people in October.

The U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said on April 29 that satellite imagery of a military training complex near Pyongyang indicated that North Korea may have used heavy anti-aircraft machine guns in a public execution. The group published imagery showing heavy machine guns mounted on a towed wheeled chassis, reviewing stands, trucks, a large trailer, and a bus.

In a report from Seoul, The Washington Post quoted a transcript in which Kim Gwang Lim, a South Korean lawmaker who was in the NIS briefing, told reporters, “(Hyon) was definitely purged and reliable intelligence says he was executed publicly in front of hundreds of military officers.”

Analysts note that NIS reports on secretive North Korea are impossible to verify and that the South Korean spy agency has issued erroneous reports in the past, including a prediction that Kim Jong Un would visit Moscow this month to attend ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two. Kim did not make what would have been his first trip abroad since he took over the country following the death of his father in 2011.

The New York Times quoted the NIS as saying that Kim is believed to have ordered the execution of 68 senior officials from 2012 to last year, for reasons given including failure to follow through with Kim's orders or raising questions about his decisions.

In the most well-known case, Kim had an uncle, Jang Song Thaek, a powerful confidante of the ruling family, executed on charges that included stealing state funds and plotting to overthrow Kim.

Reported by RFA's Korean Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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