North Korea has executed its vice premier for education and rebuked two high-ranking officials, South Korea said on Wednesday, which, if true, would mark a new series of measures by leader Kim Jong Un to discipline top aides.
The official said the North sent Kim Yong-chol, 71, the head of the United Front Department (UFD), to a rural farm for one month of re-education in mid-July as he showed a "heavy-handed" attitude and abused his power.
Since taking power after his father's death in late 2011, Kim Jong-Un is believed to have executed or demoted a number of senior figures in what analysts say is an attempt to tighten his grip on power.
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South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said the government had confirmed the execution of the education official, Kim Yong Jin, "through various channels" but declined to provide details.
North Korea is a closed, authoritarian country with a state-controlled press that often makes it hard for outsiders, and even North Korean citizens, to know what's happening in the government.
"Kim Yong Jin was denounced for his bad sitting posture when he was sitting below the rostrum" during a session of North Korea's parliament, and then underwent an interrogation that revealed his other crimes, the official told reporters. In May, a former North Korean military chief, who Seoul said had been executed, was found to be alive and holding several new senior-level posts. He also didn't explain how his ministry obtained the information.
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Choe Hwi, a 61-year-old a vice department director of the ruling party's central committee, has also been undergoing re-education in a rural area since late May, the official added.
The rival Koreas have shared the world's most heavily fortified border since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, and they bar ordinary citizens from exchanging phone calls, letters and emails without special permission.
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