SEOUL, Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of North Korean military chief Ri Yong Gil, multiple sources reported Wednesday.
Ri, who served as chief of the Korean People’s Army General Staff, would be the second high-ranking official in the military to be executed since Hyon Yong Chol in 2015, South Korean television network SBS reported.
Kim also ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek in 2013.
Ri, who was by Kim’s side at state events for more than two years, was executed on charges of corruption, The Australian reported. Ri was appointed army chief in 2013 but according to Yonhap’s sources, was purged while facing accusations of “pursuing personal gains.”
The charges are severe, but it is more likely that Ri was removed due to political infighting within the regime, the South Korean news media reported.
Ri was conspicuously absent during the Lunar New Year and satellite launch celebrations on Monday in Pyongyang, where top-ranking officials were present – including Korean People’s Army Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong So and top politician Pak Yong Sik.
Multiples sources on North Korea have said they can confirm Ri was executed.
One source said that Ri, a field army officer by training, had expressed disapproval of Kim’s policies, and was found guilty of lèse majesté, or offending the dignity of Kim’s status as a reigning sovereign.
South Korean television network KBS reported the army’s general staff has been a particular target for purges and executions since Kim fully assumed power in 2012, and that the North Korean leader has purged three out of four chiefs of staff.
Ri Yong Ho, whose status remains unknown, was the first army chief of staff to be mysteriously removed from power in 2012. State media reported Ri was “ill.”
Ri was replaced by Hyon Yong Chol, who later served as defense minister prior to his execution, as confirmed by sources.
A defector source has said signs of conflict have emerged in the regime since Kim replaced older bureaucrats with new appointees.