North Korea publicly executes defense minister, says S. Korean intelligence

North Korean defense minister Hyon Yong-chol was killed in front of hundreds of spectators for a variety of offenses, according to South Korea's spy agency. He was the fourth defense minister in 2-1/2 years.

A man watches a TV news program reporting that North Korean People's Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong-chol was killed by anti-aircraft gunfire, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday.

A daily roundup of terrorism and security issues.

North Korea’s defense minister was reportedly executed for disloyalty and showing disrespect to leader Kim Jong-un, according to South Korea’s intelligence agency. The move underscores the young ruler’s drive to consolidate power, analysts say, but could also be a sign of instability in Pyongyang.

The People's Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong-chol was killed in front of hundreds of spectators at a shooting range on the Kanggon Military Training Area in late April, according to reports from a South Korean National Intelligence Service briefing. Intelligence reports on North Korea’s activities always have to be treated with a degree of skepticism due to the nation’s secretive and closed-off nature. A recent report from the US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, however, stated that satellite imagery of the area, just outside Pyongyang, appeared to corroborate the account.

Military leadership has been in flux since Mr. Kim rose to power in 2011 after his father’s death. Mr. Hyon was the fourth person to hold the defense portfolio in 2-1/2 years, according to The Wall Street Journal. During the two-decade tenure of Kim Jong-il, Kim’s father, the military chief changed only three times.

Experts suggest the reshuffling could reflect Kim’s increasing demands on officials who are strapped for resources and come up short.

“The common assumption is that it’s bad for stability, but I’m not so sure,” Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, told Reuters. Instead, the motivation may be to encourage loyalty from others.

But such changes in leadership have not been confined to military chiefs – nor have high-profile executions. Kim has changed the director of military operations, a position that controls conventional military forces, six times since coming to power. He allegedly executed his uncle in 2013 for treason, and last month, South Korean intelligence reported that 15 senior North Korean officials accused of challenging Kim’s authority were also executed, reports the Associated Press.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim appears to be using purges to check the military old guard, which may pose the only plausible threat to his rule. Koh said Kim could be pushing a "reign of terror" to solidify his leadership, but those efforts would fail if he doesn't improve the country's shattered economy.

“This is indicative of Kim Jong-un's impulsive decision-making and a sign that he is not feeling secure…. Ultimately, this is not the sign of a man confident in his job,” Michael Madden, an expert on the North Korean leadership and contributor to the 38 North Think Tank, told the BBC.

If Kim’s purges continue, the regime could “reach its limit,” Mr. Koh told Reuters. "But it's still too early to tell." 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to