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    May 14, 2015

    N. Korean defence minister 'executed'


    NORTH Korean leader Kim Jong Un had his defence minister executed with anti-aircraft fire for insubordination and dozing off during a formal military rally, South Korean intelligence said yesterday, hinting at possible instability in the Pyongyang leadership.

    If confirmed, it marks another demonstration of how Mr Kim deals with senior officials suspected of disloyalty, following the execution of his uncle and one-time political mentor Jang Song Thaek in 2013.

    It also points to possible power struggles within the top leadership after Mr Kim's decision to cancel a scheduled visit to Moscow last week in order to deal with "internal issues".

    Late last month, South Korea's National Intelligence Agency (NIS) reported that Mr Kim had ordered the execution of 15 senior officials so far this year, including two vice-ministers, for questioning his authority.

    In a briefing yesterday to a parliamentary committee, Han Ki Beom, the deputy director of NIS, said that hundreds of people witnessed the execution of Defence Minister Hyon Yong Chol, which was believed to have been carried out around April 30 at a military academy in northern Pyongyang.

    Mr Han told lawmakers that intelligence sources suggested that Mr Hyon was shot to pieces using an anti-aircraft gun firing 14.5mm calibre rounds.

    Such a violent method of execution has been cited in various unconfirmed reports as being reserved for senior officials who the leadership wishes to make examples of.

    The details of the NIS briefing were relayed to local reporters by lawmakers who attended the parliamentary committee.

    Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Mr Hyon's reported purge and execution were a shock.

    "Hyon was seen as one of the three closest military officials to Kim Jong Un," Prof Yang told Agence France-Presse.

    Mr Hyon had visited Russia last month - partly to pave the way for Mr Kim's scheduled trip to Moscow to attend a parade on Saturday marking the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

    Prof Yang speculated that the minister might have botched his mission, amid reports that he had been tasked with brokering a weapons deal in return for Mr Kim's presence at the Moscow event.

    The NIS has a patchy record with its intelligence reports on North Korea, which have sometimes missed key events or reported others later revealed to be false.