A top North Korean military general was executed this month on corruption and other charges, according to a South Korean news report Wednesday, sparking speculation that ruler Kim Jong-un may have deemed the official as an internal threat to his grip on power in Pyongyang.
Army Gen. Ri Yong-gil, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, also faced charges of pursuing personal gains, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.
If confirmed, his execution, will have come less than a year after North Korea’s 33-year-old dictator authorized the execution of the isolated nation’s defense minister in an apparent purge designed to consolidate the young ruler’s power.
The Yonhap New Agency report Wednesday cited unnamed sources familiar with North Korea, one of whom said the execution of Gen. Ri — believed to be in his 60s — “shows that King Jong-un is very nervous about the armed forces.”
The development also comes as Mr. Kim is seen to be challenging the U.N. Security Council and the international community as a whole with a series of provocative military actions — most notably an early January nuclear weapon test and a subsequent long-range rocket launch.
State-controlled media Pyongyang claimed the Feb. 7 launch was merely to put a satellite into orbit. But U.S. officials say it was actually cover to test ballistic missile technology for long-range nuclear weapons.
U.N. sanctions ban North Korean officials from purchasing or working on nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology.
Gen. Ri, meanwhile, is believed to have headed the North Korean Army’s general staff — making him No. 3 in its hierarchy — since 2013. Yonhap’s report said the general had won Mr. Kim’s favor and accompanied him on various inspection trips to military exercises and the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, the equivalent of the South’s Defense Ministry, until last month.
He was reportedly executed last week, around the time Mr. Kim was presiding over a joint meeting of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party and the military.
Gen. Ri was absent from the meeting.
• Guy Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.
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