North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly ordered the execution of his military chief, after he was found guilty of corruption and other offences.
The reported execution of Ri Yong Gil, chief of the North Korean military’s general staff, is the latest in a series of killings and purges since Kim took power in 2011.
Details about North Korea’s government are notoriously hard to obtain, but South Korean sources say that Ri’s execution was part of Kim’s effort to strengthen his grip on power.
It’s also believed that Ri was facing charges for abusing his power and forming a clique shortly before his execution.
Ri, who took up the top military job in 2013, was considered to be one of Kim’s most trusted aides - as he frequently accompanied the leader on tours of army units and factories.
But speculation arose around his fate after he missed two key national events in North Korea - a meeting of senior ruling Workers’ Party officials, and a rally to celebrate the North’s rocket test.
During the Workers’ Party meeting, Kim called for a fight against abuse of power and ‘bureaucratism’ that he said undermined single-minded unity in North Korea.
Last July, South Korea’s intelligence service said that 70 North Korean officials have been executed since Kim’s inauguration, a number that exceeds the bloodshed of father Kim Jong II’s early rule.
Before Ri’s death, the most notable executions were the killings of armed forces minister Hyon Yong Chol for disloyalty last year and Kim’s powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek for treason in 2013.
Outside experts say that the brutal power shifts indicate that the young leader is still struggling to establish himself.