North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with top military brass
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with top military brass

SEOUL (AA) – North Korea is believed to have executed its military chief this month, with local reports emerging Wednesday suggesting that Army General Ri Yong-gil had paid the ultimate price over corruption allegations.

South Korean news agency Yonhap cited sources “familiar with North Korean affairs” as saying that Ri was purged this month after facing accusations of “pursuing personal gains”.

The claims are backed by Ri’s recent disappearance — he was nowhere to be seen during Pyongyang’s celebrations of Sunday’s long-range rocket launch in the North.

Moreover, the authoritarian state’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper named a General Ri Myong-su in his place.

But there were likely political motivations behind the change according to the informed source cited by Yonhap, as there did not seem to be any weight behind Ri’s corruption charges.

“This shows that Kim Jong-un is very nervous about the armed forces,” the source said, after demonstrations of North Korea’s ambitions this year with both Sunday’s launch and last month’s nuclear test.

Analysts have long suspected a power struggle between North Korea’s military and ruling party.

The execution — if proven — would be the latest in a series of high-profile cases of capital punishment since leader Kim Jong-un came to power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il at the end of 2011.

Among the victims so far have been Kim’s own uncle as well as his defense minister, who was caught falling asleep during an event last year.

Ri had been in his post since 2013.

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