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North Korea defence boss 'executed'

Published 13/05/2015

Portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il glow on the facade of a building in Pyongyang (AP)
Portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il glow on the facade of a building in Pyongyang (AP)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un executed his defence chief for sleeping during a meeting and talking back to the young leader, South Korea's spy agency has said.

National Intelligence Service officials said People's Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong Chol was killed by anti-aircraft gunfire with hundreds watching at a shooting range at Pyongyang's Kang Kon Military Academy in late April,

The agency gave the information to politicians at a behind-closed-doors parliamentary committee meeting, citing what it called credible information, according to Shin Kyoung-min, who attended the briefing.

The office of another politician, Lee Cheol Woo, released similar information about the NIS briefing.

The NIS did not tell the politicians how it got the information, only that it was from a variety of channels and that it believed it to be true, Mr Shin said.

The agency would not comment when contacted by The Associated Press. It has a patchy record of tracking developments in North Korea. Information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm.

Since taking power upon the death of his dictator father in late 2011, Kim has orchestrated a series of purges in apparent efforts to bolster his grip on power.

Analysts are split on whether the bloody power shifts indicate a young leader in firm control, or someone still struggling to establish himself.

The most notable purge was in 2013 when Kim executed his uncle and chief deputy, Jang Song Thaek, for alleged treason.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un appears to be using purges to keep the military old guard in check as they pose the only plausible threats to his rule.

He said Kim could be resorting to a "reign of terror" to solidify his leadership but that would eventually have only a limited effect if he fails to produce breakthroughs in resolving the country's economic woes.

Last month, spy officials told politicians that North Korea executed 15 senior officials accused of challenging Kim's authority.

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