North Korea: Kim Jong-un 'executes chief of military on corruption charges'

General Ri Yong-gil's influence has been diminishing over a number of years 

The chief of North Korea's military has been executed on charges of "corruption", according to a South Korean news agency.

General Ri Young-gil had been chief of the general staff for Kim Jong-un's regime since he was appointed to the role in August 2013.

According to the Yonhap News agency, which cited sources "familiar with North Korean affairs", General Ri was purged this month and also faced accusations of "pursuing personal gains".

It is almost impossible to verify the report coming out of the hermit kingdom, but reports of General Ri falling out of favour with Kim have been circulating since early 2014.

Then, it was reported that General Ri might be superseded by the increasingly influential General Pyon In Son, who was made a four-star general in March 2014 and named head of operations in the Korean People’s Army. 

But according to South Korean officials, General Pyon was himself then executed in January 2015, two months after he was stripped of office for alleged “corruption and failure to follow orders”.

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“The purge sends a message that helps to discipline the military,” said Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, at the time.

If the reports can be confirmed, the demise of General Ri would be one of the most high-profile purges in North Korea since Kim ordered the execution of his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, following a special military tribunal.

Jang’s killing would nonetheless remain the highest-level purge since Kim took power following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011.

At the time, veteran Pyongyang commentators said Kim had not choice to be rid of Jang in order to cement his fragile power.

North Korea expert Andrei Lankov then said: “He had to go. To really start running the country Kim must get rid of the old guard.  They are so much older; they are in their sixties and seventies and he is in his thirties.”

General Ri was made a lieutenant general at the peak of Kim Jong-il’s reign in 2002. Believed to have been in his early sixties, he would certainly fit the term “old guard”.