North Korean Defense Minister Executed by Antiaircraft Fire, South Says
Hyon Yong Chol is reportedly killed for falling asleep at military events and showing disrespect to Kim Jong Un
By Jeyup S. Kwaak in the Wall Street Journal
SEOUL—North Korea’s defense minister has been executed by antiaircraft fire for disloyalty and showing disrespect to dictator Kim Jong Un, senior officials from Seoul’s National Intelligence Service told South Korean lawmakers in a closed hearing Tuesday.
Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol allegedly fell asleep during military events and talked back to the leader, the officials told the Intelligence Committee of South Korea’s National Assembly, according to a person familiar with the briefing.
Several others in Pyongyang’s top brass were also removed from their posts, the person said. The moves are the latest shuffling of officials that began when Mr. Kim inherited power from his father in late 2011. The frequency of the changes is higher than in previous regimes, observers say.
But more than three years into power, no clear signs of general instability in Mr.Kim’s regime have emerged.
North Korea hasn’t officially acknowledged the public execution or the officials’ removal through its state media and it wasn't possible to independently verify any of the information provided to the committee hearing.
Lim Byung-chul, spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said Wednesday Mr. Hyon was last seen in public late last month but couldn’t confirm the execution’s timing.
North Korea’s purges should be viewed as a way to “create an atmosphere of terror” to consolidate Mr. Kim’s grip on power, Mr. Lim added.
Experts say the reshuffling appears to reflect Mr. Kim’s increasing demands on resource-strapped officials who come up short. The spy agency’s list of removed officials includes Ma Won Chun and Han Kwang Sang, top officials for construction and finance, respectively.
Mr. Hyon was the fourth person in the position in 2 ½ years when he was appointed in June as minister of the People’s Armed Forces, whose role consists of taking care of troops’ welfare. Mr. Hyon, a lifetime military man with a short political career, is a likely candidate to raise objections to Mr. Kim’s demands, said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification.
Mr. Hyon’s execution was watched by hundreds of officials at a public execution site north of Pyongyang, the intelligence service said at the hearing. Satellite images taken in October of that site showed what appeared to be six antiaircraft guns and unidentified people at an imminent execution, a recent report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said.
South Korean government officials have said dozens of officials have been executed, some by machine gun, since Mr. Kim took power. The highest-profile case came in late 2013 when Jang Song Thaek, an influential adviser and an uncle to Mr. Kim, was executed for treason.
A spokeswoman from South Korea’s spy agency declined to comment on Wednesday.