Spy agency unable to verify N Korean defence chief execution

Spy agency unable to verify N Korean defence chief execution
Senior North Korean military officer Hyon Yong Chol (R) attends the 4th Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) in Moscow on April 16, 2015. He was reportedly executed but South Korea's spy agency said it could not verify his death.

SEOUL - Doubts surfaced Thursday over the reported execution of North Korea's defence chief, as the original source, South Korea's spy agency, clarified that it had been unable to verify he had been put to death.

Briefing a select parliamentary committee on Wednesday, the National Intelligence Service said Defence Minister Hyon Yong-Chol had been purged, and cited intelligence suggesting he may have been executed using an anti-aircraft gun.

The grim details of Hyon's demise dominated headlines, but the NIS on Thursday stressed that his execution had never been confirmed.

"Hyon has been purged," an NIS spokesman told AFP.

"And there are intelligence reports that he might have been executed, but this has not yet been verified," the spokesman said.

The confusion is partly the result of the way NIS briefings to parliament are carried out and reported.

They take place behind closed doors, after which selected lawmakers pass on the information to the South Korean media -- resulting in several degrees of separation between the original NIS briefing and the resulting headlines.

According to the lawmakers, the NIS said Hyon was purged for disloyalty and dozing off during official events presided over by leader Kim Jong-Un.

If confirmed, it marks the most high-profile take-down of a top Pyongyang official, since the purge and execution of Kim's powerful uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, in December 2013.

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