North Korea has executed at least 15 senior officials this year alone including a vice forestry minister and four high-flying artists as leader Kim Jong-un continues his reign of terror apparently to cement his power, according to Seoul's National Intelligence Service on Wednesday.
The vice minister was killed after complaining about the current reforestation policy, as was the deputy chief of a national planning panel who opposed the young ruler's instruction to put a flower-shaped roof over a science and technology hall that is under construction in Pyongyang, said Reps. Lee Cheol-woo and Shin Kyoung-min, members of the parliamentary intelligence committee, following a closed-door briefing by the spy agency.
The four entertainers of the Unhasu orchestra, a top music group where Kim's wife Ri Sol-ju is known to have previously worked, were killed in the wake of a sex scandal involving them.
Kim Yong-chol, former head of the North's Reconnaissance General Bureau who is believed to be the mastermind behind the communist country's deadly attack on a South Korean corvette in 2010, was recently demoted to a three-star general again, the lawmakers said, adding that his rank had been changed at least four times over the last three years.
"Kim tends to carry through his thinking without accepting any excuses or reasons at all that may block it, and if you raise any other opinion, you will get executed as an example of what happens when you challenge his authority," Shin told reporters.
"He instantly gives you an order, and you will get demoted if you don't follow."
The 15 deaths are part of the ongoing string of slayings the Kim regime has been engaging in to tighten his grip since the shock execution in December 2013 of his uncle Jang Song-thaek who was once dubbed the country's second most influential man.
The NIS confirmed that an additional 41 officials were killed last year, Shin noted.
Despite lingering uncertainties, the agency sees "quite a high possibility" that Kim will travel to Moscow next month for his maiden overseas outing to take part in a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, he added.