Ri Yong-gil Executed: North Korea’s Army Chief Reportedly Killed Under Executive Orders For Corruption And Factional Conspiracy?

North Korea has executed its army chief Ri Yong-gil, indicated reports from South Korea. He was reportedly accused of corruption and factional conspiracy. This is incidentally the second defense minister that the country’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un has ordered to be killed.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un recently had his army chief of staff executed, claims South Korea, perhaps based on his marked absence in recent times. He was last seen in early January alongside the North’s leader. The two were credited with accelerating the development of what the secretive Communist state insists was a miniaturized hydrogen bomb. The two were photographed together sharing notes during the test of the hydrogen bomb. The photo masks the stark contrast with the news of Ri Yong-gil’s execution.

Regional experts point out Ri Yong-gil’s absence from the recent high-profile satellite launch as a strong indicator that he might have been executed. He was appointed in August 2013. Incidentally, less than a year ago, Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of the then-defense minister.

Ri Yong-gil was Chief of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) General Staff. Yonhap News Agency added that he first emerged as a senior staff officer in 2012. Shortly afterward, he took over the responsibility of managing the army from Chief of Staff Kim Kyok-sik. A notorious hardliner, Kyok-sik had a very checkered career and was infamous for escalating tensions with the country’s southern neighbor. Ri Yong-gil swiftly rose through the military ranks and was recently acknowledged as “Kim Jong-un’s number two in the military.”

Ri Yong-gil was reportedly killed for forming a political faction and corruption, reported South Korean agency Yonhap. As with all news about the internal affairs of the secretive country, the report about the execution of the army chief can’t be verified through the country’s foreign office.

What makes the news about Ri Yong-gil’s execution odd is that North Korea’s state media have always presented General Ri as a loyal “senior executive” in the army and a “trusted” colleague in the government, reported BBC News. Moreover, he was always seen with Kim Jong-un and was considered a key figure in his usual entourage. Whenever Kim went on one of his rounds to observe the miracles that his researchers and scientists produced with remarkable regularity, Yong-gil would be present in the immediate vicinity, and he was often photographed with Kim.

Ri Yong-gil has been attributed to consolidating the country’s military power, and local news agencies often indicated his close proximity with Kim an important step in improving army loyalty and helping the leadership system strong. He was last photographed on January 5 during one of his inspections of the coastal artillery, after which the alleged hydrogen bomb was tested.

KCNA reported that in a recent meeting chaired by Kim Jong-un, there was “in-depth discussion” that mainly involved strong criticism of the “practices of seeking privileges, misuse of authority, abuse of power and bureaucratic culture manifested in the party, and proposed tasks and ways for thoroughly overcoming them.”

It is not immediately clear what method was used to execute Ri Yong-gil. It is quite common for North Korea to execute or torture people with unorthodox techniques. Past reports have indicated that the country had used such varied devices as hungry dogs and anti-aircraft gun, among others. The country reserves such techniques for killing senior officials and even punishes their family members.

While the exact reason for executing Ri Yong-gil might never be known, reports indicate he might have objected to the supreme leader’s wisdom during the appointment of party leaders to key military posts.

[Photo by Kim Kwang Hyon/AP Images]