North Korean army chief of staff executed

South Korea's Yonhap news agency is reporting that the chief of staff of the North Korean army, Ri Yong Gil, has been executed for "corruption" and "factional conspiracy."

Ri becomes the latest high-ranking North Korean official to be executed, suggesting that dictator Kim Jong-un has yet to get complete control of the army and political leadership.


Ri, who was chief of the Korean People's Army (KPA) General Staff, was executed this month for corruption and factional conspiracy, Yonhap and other South Korean media reported.

Yonhap did not identify its sources. The source who told Reuters the news declined to comment on how the information about the execution had been obtained.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service declined to comment and it was not possible to independently verify the report.

The North rarely issues public announcement related to purges or executions of high-level officials.

A rare official confirmation of a high-profile execution came after Jang Song Thaek, leader Kim Jong Un's uncle and the man who was once considered the second most powerful figure in the country, was executed for corruption in 2013.

In May last year, the North executed its defense chief by anti-aircraft gun at a firing range, the South's spy agency said in a report to members of parliament.

The North's military leadership has been in a state of perpetual reshuffle since Kim Jong Un took power after the death of his father in 2011. He has changed his armed forces chief several times since then.

Some other high-ranking officials in the North have been absent from public view for extended periods, fuelling speculation they may have been purged or removed, only to resurface.

It bears repeating that we should be cautious accepting these reports as fact, given the nature of North Korean's hermetically sealed society and the difficulty of getting accurate information from Kim's inner circle.

If true, the significance of the leader of a nuclear-armed North Korea who might not have total control over his military is the stuff of nightmares for U.S. and Western policymakers.  It brings an element of instability into an already volatile situation.  And with Kim regularly threatening war against South Korea, the U.S. cannot afford to overlook the possibility that Kim Jong-un might be beholden to more radical elements in the North Korean power structure who believe that the use of nuclear weapons is not unthinkable.