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(4th LD) N. Korea executes vice premier in July: Seoul official

All Headlines 16:45 August 31, 2016

(ATTN: REWRITES lead; ADDS more info in last 3 paras)

SEOUL, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has carried out the execution of a vice premier and punished two senior officials, a Seoul official said Wednesday, as the North's leader is seeking to further strengthen his reign of terror.

The official said North Korea executed the 63-year-old Kim Yong-jin by firing squad last month after being branded as an "anti-party and anti-revolutionary element."

He was investigated by the North's intelligence agency due to his sitting posture shown at a key parliamentary meeting held in late June.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who took power in late 2011, is believed to have executed more than 100 government and military officials, including his once-powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek, as he seeks to consolidate his oppressive rule.

The Seoul official also said that two other senior officials were punished for lapses.

He said the North sent Kim Yong-chol, 71, the head of the United Front Department (UFD), to a rural farm for one month of reeducation starting in mid-July as he showed a "heavy-handed" attitude and was blamed for abusing his power.

"As Kim is expected to further show his loyalty (to the North's leader) after (reeducation), the government is keeping close tabs on the possibility that North Korea will show a more hard-line attitude toward South Korea," the official said.

Kim, already known as a hard-liner, is leading the ruling party's department which handles inter-Korean affairs following the death of his predecessor Kim Yang-gon in December 2015. He is believed to have returned to his jobs following the punishment.

The official, who led the country's reconnaissance bureau, is thought to be behind the sinking of a South Korean warship and shelling of a front-line island in 2010.

The 62-year-old Choe Hwi, a vice department director of the ruling party's central committee, has also been undergoing reeducation in a rural area since late May over his mishandling of the party's work on agitation and propaganda, the official added.

The North's leader is strengthening his reign of terror by executing officials and ordinary people and tightening the crackdown on those attempting to flee the nation.

In December 2013, North Korea conducted the high-profile execution of the leader's uncle Jang, once the No. 2 man in the North, citing charges of treason.

In April last year, the country killed then-defense chief Hyon Yong-chol with an anti-aircraft gun because he dozed off during a military event, according to Seoul's spy agency.

More North Koreans, including elite members of society, are seeking to defect to South Korea amid tighter international sanctions and the leader's brutal rule.

Thae Yong-ho, a former minister at the North Korean embassy in Britain, has recently defected to South Korea, making him one of the highest ranking North Korean officials to flee to the South.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul's Dongguk University, said that the North Korean leader's execution of his officials seems to aim to elicit loyalty from the elite groups.

"The North's leader is expected to keep his iron-fist rule, but the degree of his reign of terror can be affected by changes in situations at home and abroad," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute.


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