Following reports from South Korean media about the execution of a high-level military official in North Korea on charges of “factionalism and corruption,” a source from within the North told Daily NK that General Ri Yong Gil was indeed arrested during a two-day joint meeting among Party and military officials, but no subsequent information exists as of yet to suggest that he has been executed.
The incident occurred on February 2 at an expanded joint meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea [KPW] Central Committee and the Korean People’s Army [KPA] WPK Committee, a gathering of some 6,000 provincial, municipal, and county-level officials from the Party and military convened by Kim Jong Un and held at the April 25 Cultural Center in the capital, Pyongyang.
“Well into the meeting, the army chief of staff, Ri Yong Gil, and other generals were arrested and dragged out by ‘Changkwang security agents’ [designated for Kim Jong Un], who are expressly tasked with the arrest of top-tier cadres,” a source in South Pyongan Province, citing a provincial-level Party cadre, told Daily NK on February 11.
An additional source in Pyongyang corroborated this news.
At the center of the charges brought against General Ri was “going against the Party’s monolithic teachings and monolithic military system” by “exercising privileges and partaking in factional bureaucracy,” according to the source. “At the time of his arrest, the order was to arrest the ‘anti-Party, anti-revolutionary’ Ri Yong Gil, and agents rushed toward Ri, who was sitting in the front row flanked by fellow generals, and then put handcuffs on him and dragged him out,” he explained.
“A number of attendees had absolutely no idea why the meeting was called in the first place, but confusion quickly gave way to fear after watching the chief of the Korean People’s Army General Staff get dragged off like that.”
Underpinning the general’s demise were his grievances about so-called “pure Party cadres” (the likes of Choe Ryong Hae, Hwang Pyong So, Jo Yon Jun, et. al) lacking experience with military organizations yet somehow soaring unfettered to the general rank and exerting, by Ri’s assertion, unearned authority. A protracted power conflict rumbled beneath the surface, ultimately exploding into accusations that Ri had routinely “defied the Party order imposed on the military.”
As ever, word spread rapidly among the public on Ri Yong Gil’s tumble from the upper ranks, and the notion of only “robots” left standing to take orders from Kim Jong Un has gained significant traction thereafter. Others with whom Daily NK’s source interacted showed barely a passing interest on the matter, noting that from their vantage point, it looks as though “all those high-ranking officials are just going to end up knocking each other off.”