If confirmed, it marks another demonstration of Kim’s ruthlessness in dealing with even the most senior officials suspected of disloyalty, following the execution of his uncle and one-time political mentor Jang Song-Thaek in 2013.
It also points to possible power struggles within the top leadership in North Korea, following Kim Jong-Un’s decision to cancel a scheduled visit to Moscow last week in order to deal with “internal issues”.
Late last month, the South’s National Intelligence Agency (NIS) reported that Kim had ordered the execution of 15 senior officials so far this year, including two vice ministers, for questioning his authority.
In a briefing Wednesday to a parliamentary committee, Han Ki-Beom, the deputy director of NIS, said hundreds of people witnessed the execution of defence minister Hyon Yong-Chol, which was believed to have been carried out around April 30 at a military academy in northern Pyongyang.
Han told lawmakers that intelligence sources suggested Han was shot to pieces using an anti-aircraft gun firing 14.5mm calibre rounds.
Such a violent method of execution has been cited in various unconfirmed reports as being reserved for senior officials who the leadership wishes to make examples of.
Last month, the US-based Committee for Human Rights in Korea published an October-dated satellite image of the same academy that analysts said showed a shooting range with anti-aircraft guns lined up in what appeared to be preparation for an execution. (AFP)