Seoul says NKorean defense chief purge confirmed

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Reports had already suggested execution of predecessor Hyon Yong-chol by heavy artillery for being caught sleeping on the job

by Alex Jensen

SEOUL – North Korea has finally opened up about purging former defense chief Hyon Yong-chol earlier this year, according to the South Korean government Monday.

He was publicly seen addressing an audience in Russia as recently as April 16, before disappearing from public view within days.

The following month, Seoul’s intelligence agency reported that Hyon had lost his life as well as his job — it was claimed that he was executed by anti-aircraft gun for defying undisputed leader Kim Jong-un.

Released images showed the then defense chief asleep during a meeting presided over by Kim, who is known to have also had his own uncle killed amid a much wider purge since assuming power following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011.

Over the weekend, North Korea’s state media referred to General Pak Yong-sik as minister in charge of defense.

That was in the South’s eyes tantamount to a first public admission of Hyon’s forced removal from office.

“Because North Korea introduced Pak Yong-sik as the armed forces minister, we can confirm that Hyon Yong-chol was purged and replaced,” Unification Ministry spokesperson Jeong Joon-hee said at a briefing.

Pak is thought to be close to the North’s leader, having been spotted in official coverage of Kim’s public appearances.

But Seoul refused to speculate on Hyon’s reported execution by heavy artillery, as Jeong dismissed the claim from South Korea’s own intelligence as a “rumor.”

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