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".
Gen Ri Yong-gil, Chief of General Staff of the North Korean Army was in Karachi for IDEAS 2014 - meeting Pak minister pic.twitter.com/hZ4owlGWRS— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) December 4, 2014
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.
North Korea's worst human rights abuses
North Korea's worst human rights abuses
A UN report said that policies leading to mass starvation in North Korea amounted to crimes against humanity. Deaths peaked during the 1990s North Korean famine.
Defence minister Hyon Yong Chol is believed to be the latest official executed after falling foul of Kim Jong-un. As well as gruesome public executions, thousands of people have been killed in state 'purges' and for alleged anti-state crimes
Torture is prevalent in prison camps, as well as in police and security service custody.
4/11 Freedom of religion
American missionary Kenneth Bae was one of the many people detained after trying to practice their religion. The DPRK Constitution claims to protect freedom of religion but not if it as alleged of being used a a pretext for 'drawing in foreign forces or for harming the state and social order'. Christianity is frequently considered a political crime
5/11 Freedom of expression
All media is tightly-state controlled and expressing facts of opinions critical of the government or Juche ideology can lead to arrest and imprisonment. As well as being under extensive surveillance, people are encouraged to 'inform' on friends and neighbours
6/11 Freedom of thought
A UN report found that the 'DPRK operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine which takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader, effectively to the exclusion of any independent thought from the official ideology and state propaganda'
7/11 Forced labour
Prisoners are subjected to forced labour in camps, including children as young as five. Some workers are also reportedly being sent abroad to fund the government's projects
8/11 Sexual discrimination
Although women are permitted to serve in the military, their role is restrained by the Juche ideology and the UN reports that 'discrimination against women remains pervasive in all aspects of society'
9/11 Freedom of movement
Freedom of movement is severely restricted within North Korea and very few citizens are allowed to leave the country. Immigrants found in China can be forcible repatriated and punished on their return. The right for foreigners to enter is also severely restricted.
10/11 Prison camps
Many of the worst abuses reported take place at prison camps, some specifically for political crimes. The camps officially do not exist but have been photographed using satellite. Inmates are 'forcibly disappeared' and usually imprisoned until death
11/11 Reproductive rights
Forced abortions have been reported for imprisoned women, often after being raped by guards. Mothers and babies frequently die in childbirth because of a lack of adequate care, often delivering babies unaided at home.
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”.
“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”.