"Executed for a "disrespectful" posture during a meeting with Kim Jong Un."
Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has executed his deputy premier for education and purged two other senior officials, sending them to re-education camps, the South Korean government said Wednesday.
Jeong Joon-hee, a spokesman for the South's Unification Ministry, said at a news briefing that the government had used various means to confirm the execution of Kim Yong Jin, the deputy premier, and the purge of Kim Yong Chol, the head of the United Front Department of the ruling Workers' Party, which handles relations with, as well as spying operations against, South Korea. Choe Hui Do, a deputy chief of the party's Propaganda and Agitation Department, was also banished for re-education, Jeong said.
Mr Jeong provided no further details, including when the reported punishments were believed to have taken place or how South Korea had learned of them.
Kim Yong Jin, the deputy premier, would be the highest-ranking official known to have been executed since 2013, when North Korea confirmed in a rare announcement that Kim Jong Un had executed his own uncle and No. 2 official, Jang Song Thaek, on charges of factionalism, corruption and plotting to overthrow his government.
The South Korean national news agency, Yonhap, citing an anonymous government source, reported that the deputy premier had been arrested for sitting in a "disrespectful" posture during a meeting led by Kim Jong Un. He was executed by firing squad in July, the agency said. Yonhap also reported that Kim Yong Chol, the United Front Department head, had spent a month in a re-education camp for abuse of power and that he had been released in mid-August.
Since taking power in 2011, Kim Jong Un has frequently reshuffled party and military elites as he has consolidated his authority in North Korea, which his family has ruled for seven decades. Mr Kim has executed dozens of top officials in what President Park Geun-hye of South Korea has called a "reign of terror," according to South Korean intelligence officials.
It remains difficult to independently verify reports of executions and purges in the secretive North. North Korea rarely announces them.
It was unusual for a South Korean government spokesman to make them public in an open news briefing, although intelligence officials have often briefed lawmakers in closed-door sessions. In one such briefing last year, lawmakers were told that Gen. Hyon Yong Chol, the defense minister, had been executed with an anti-aircraft gun in Pyongyang, the North's capital, after dozing off during military events and second-guessing Kim's orders.
Mr Jeong, the government spokesman, said that he was responding to recent reports in the South Korean media. On Tuesday, the mass-circulation daily JoongAng Ilbo, citing an anonymous source, reported that Hwang Min, a former North Korean agriculture minister, and Ri Yong Jin, a senior Education Ministry official, had been executed with anti-aircraft guns in early August. The newspaper reported that Mr Ri had been arrested after dozing off during a meeting headed by Mr Kim and that Mr Hwang had proposed a policy that was deemed to represent a challenge to Kim's leadership.
Mr Jeong did not comment on the fates of those two officials in his briefing Wednesday.
JoongAng Ilbo reported that the officials' reported executions might have been aimed at tightening Kim's control after a senior North Korean diplomat's recent defection to the South. South Korea announced this month that Thae Yong Ho, the No. 2 in the North Korean Embassy in London, had defected to Seoul with his family.
South Korean officials often cite such high-level defections, and purges like those announced Wednesday, as potential sources of instability in Mr Kim's totalitarian regime. But some analysts dispute such conclusions.
Purges and executions remain a key feature of political life in the North, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute, a South Korean research organisation. But he said that such persecutions, while barbaric, have become less frequent under Kim Jong Un. Mr Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, was estimated to have purged more than 2,000 officials from 1994 to 2000, he said.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, September 1, 2016 (local time)
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