North Korea has executed its army chief of staff, Ri Yong Gil. It has been reported by a South Korean news agency. The news has come when the country is isolated following its nuclear test and long-range missile launch.

Yon Hap News Agency reported that the chief of North Korea’s military was executed just this month on the charges of corruption as well as pursuing personal gain. However, Yon Hap did not confirm its source.

The army chief Ri was not named after the launch of the long-range rocket on February 7. The country usually cites important officials after a major event like that, reported Yon Hap. South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Kwon Ki-hyun and Unification Ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-ji refused to confirm the news.

Ri, who was appointed in 2013, was Kim Jong-un’s favourite and use to accompany him on inspection trips to military exercises and Ministry of People’s Armed Forces. However, he was not seen with Kim Jong-un since last month. He was not present in the joint meetings of the party and the military as well as the events celebrating the success of the satellite launch. One more thing, the list of leader present in the celebration revealed by the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper excludes Ri.

Ri was a man of principle so North Korea had to justify his execution by citing charges like corruption. Moreover, Ri might have objected to Kim’s recent appointment of party leaders in the military.

Execution of officials is not a new trend in North Korea. Officers were always executed in the country on charges ranging from graft to watching South Korean soaps. Thus, according to, Kim wants to tighten his grip on power. Reportedly, he didn’t even spare his own uncle,  Jang Song-thaek who was a deputy and Kim’s mentor, and was executed in 2013.

Kim came to power after his father’s death in 2011 and strictly adhered to the military-first policy since then. He has always emphasized on illuminating threats to his position. His ruthless actions like nuclear tests and rocket launches have showed the world community the extent of what he can do and might do.

Robert Kelly, professor in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University, commented, “One argument is that even after nearly five years in power, Kim is still weak, and is wiping out his lieutenants to try and keep a grip. The other argument is that he’s strong and is in full control of the army. He can do exactly what he wants with the army and this is a typical move to wipe out the old guard.”