SEOUL • North Korea's Vice-Premier Choe Yong Gon has been executed for voicing frustration at the policies of leader Kim Jong Un, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said yesterday.
Mr Choe who took the job in June last year, was executed by firing squad in May after voicing opposition to forestry policies promoted by Mr Kim, Yonhap said, citing an anonymous source "with knowledge of the North".
Mr Choe was last seen in the North's state media at the death anniversary last December of the late leader Kim Jong Il, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.
The vice-premier, said to be 63 years old, worked on inter-Korean affairs in the mid-2000s, leading the North's delegation in joint economic cooperation with South Korea between 2003 and 2005.
He was at the 2004 opening ceremony of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a factory park jointly run with Seoul that is the last remaining joint project of the two countries, which remain technically at war.
His appointment as one of seven vice-premiers had been seen by an analyst as a sign that Pyongyang was keen to maintain close ties with the South, reported the BBC.
Seoul was "closely monitoring the possibility of any changes in Choe's circumstances", said the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of cross-border affairs.
Mr Choe's death, if confirmed, would be the second reported execution of a minister in the North this year.
In May, South Korea's National Intelligence Service told lawmakers that the North's defence minister Hyon Yong Chol was said to have been executed the month before by anti-aircraft fire for insubordination and dozing off during formal military rallies.
Such a violent method of execution has been cited in various unconfirmed reports as being reserved for senior officials who the leadership wished to make examples of.
The North has not officially confirmed Mr Hyon's execution but announced his replacement, Mr Pak Yong Sik, in July.
South Korea's intelligence agency also claimed in May that Mr Kim had executed dozens of officials - including his own uncle - since taking power after the death of his father in December 2011.
Pyongyang in December 2013 made an unusually public announcement of the shock execution of Mr Kim's uncle, Mr Jang Song Thaek, for charges including treason and corruption.
Mr Kim, believed to be in his early 30s, has repeatedly reshuffled senior army officials in a move analysts say aimed at forcing them to remain loyal to the young ruler.
The Kim dynasty has ruled the impoverished and isolated North for more than six decades with an iron fist, a pervasive personality cult and almost no tolerance for dissent.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS