North Korean leader Kim Jong-un executed two top officials publicly, killing them with an anti-aircraft gun, a source with special knowledge of North Korea told the JoongAng Ilbo.
One was apparently killed for nodding off during a meeting with Kim.
The executed men were Hwang Min, former agricultural minister, and Ri Yong-jin, who had a senior position in the education ministry, possibly as high as minister level.
“I have the information that ministers of agriculture and education were publicly executed on a special order from Kim Jong-un,” said the source. The executions took place at a military academy in Pyongyang, he said, and an anti-aircraft gun was used.
If the report is true, it would mark the first execution ordered by Kim Jong-un from outside the Workers’ Party and military.
The report may be interpreted as a new reign of terror in North Korea prompted by a series of defections by senior officials that has rekindled talk of instability and disunity among the North Korean elite.
“One of the executed is Hwang Min, a former agricultural minister,” said the source. “I understand he was executed because policy proposals he had pushed for were seen as a direct challenge to the Kim Jong-un leadership."
The source did not elaborate what the proposal was or why it was seen as a challenge to the leader. Hwang was replaced by Ko In-ho at a meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament in late June before apparently being executed.
The other ill-fated official was Ri Yong-jin, who the source said was a ministerial-level official at the education ministry.
“He incurred the wrath of Kim after he dozed off during a meeting presided over by Kim. He was arrested on site and intensively questioned by the state security ministry. He was executed after other charges such as corruption were found during the probe.”
In North Korea, there are two ministries related to education: the Ministry of Common Education and Ministry of Higher Education, which are headed by Kim Sung-du and Thae Hyong-chol, who is also president of Kim Il Sung University. A government official said the ill-fated Ri could have had a minister-level position at one of the two.
Since taking over after his father’s death in late 2011, Kim has carried out a series of executions of party and military officials. The most high-profile was the December 2013 execution of Jang Song-thaek, Kim’s uncle and former political guardian. Another high-profile execution was that of Hyon Yong-chol, North Korea’s former defense chief, who South Korean intelligence said was executed by firing squad in April 2015 on charges of dozing off during a meeting attended by the supreme leader.
If the report of the two executions is true, they may have been related to a series of defections by senior North Korean officials with privileged backgrounds.
The recent defection of Thae Yong-ho, formerly No. 2 at the North Korean embassy in London, sparked speculation that there is disunity among the North’s inner circle and a decline in faith in the Kim regime. The young leader could have felt the need to impose a sense of terror among elite officials to reinforce their loyalty.
“The recent series of defections by top officials is less a looming sign of the collapse of the North Korean regime than the outcome of the North’s wrong policies for its overseas officials,” said Kim Byung-yeon, professor of economics at Seoul National University, who specializes in the North Korean economy.
North Korean officials overseas are said to be under growing pressure to find source of hard currency to be transferred to Pyongyang after sanctions were slapped on the country in March, following its fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range missile launch the following month. Such pressure could have driven elite officials like Thae to opt to defect to the South rather than face dire consequences back home after failing to find the motherland extra sources of foreign exchange, observers say.
President Park Geun-hye said Monday that her government would continue to “send a message of hope for North Korean people for the life of liberty and dignity.”
At a meeting with senior secretaries at the Blue House, Park said, “Improving human rights conditions in North Korea is a humanitarian issue that cannot be put off any more and a cornerstone to bringing about an era of peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
She called on the military to maintain readiness so the North Korean regime can be brought to “self-destruction” should it choose to provoke the South violently.
BY KANG JIN-KYU, LEE YOUNG-JONG [email@example.com]