South Korea says 'aware' of executions of North's musicians

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea's spy chief has said he is "aware" of the alleged execution of members of the North's national orchestra, said to include a singer rumoured to be leader Kim Jong Un's former girlfriend.

Several members of the orchestra and other state music troupes had been executed by firing squad for taping themselves having sex, Japan's Asahi Shimbun said last month in a report that was picked up by South Korean broadcasters and websites.

Asahi said the rare execution of state performers - including a woman thought to be Mr Kim's ex-girlfriend - in August had been ordered to squash rumours about the decadent lifestyle of North Korean first lady Ri Sol Ju while she was an entertainer.

North Korea has angrily denied reports of the executions, calling the media accounts an "unpardonable" crime.

On Tuesday, South Korea's spy agency chief commented for the first time on the accusations.

"We are aware of the execution of some 10 people associated with the Unhasu Orchestra", two lawmakers quoted Nam Jae Joon as saying at a closed door parliamentary session, according to Yonhap news agency.

Mr Nam, director of the National Intelligence Service, said the agency had no information whether Ms Ri had any connection with the execution.

The North's state news agency KCNA has said the reports on the executions were the work of "psychopaths" and "confrontation maniacs" in the South Korean government and media.

"This is an unpardonable, hideous provocation hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership," a KCNA commentary said last month.

In an apparent attempt to further negate the rumours, North Korean radio on Wednesday aired a performance by the orchestra, Yonhap reported.

Pyongyang Bangsong radio broadcast a quintette entitled "Hymn of the Fatherland", saying it was conducted by Unhasu's conductor Ri Myong Il and included Italy-educated singer Hwang Un Mi.