BLOODTHIRSTY tyrant Kim Jong-un has reportedly had a former key crony executed in a savage clampdown inside his regime, sources have claimed.
The top diplomat, who was formerly the North Korean ambassador to Britain and spoke fluent English, was reportedly executed after being “purged” from Kim’s administration.
Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, citing unnamed sources, reported that the 66-year-old had been executed last year.
He was reportedly executed alongside four or five other officials.
All of those executed are believed to have had links to the North Korean embassy in Britain.
South Korean MP Youn Kun-young told the country’s parliament that his county’s National Intelligence Service had confirmed that Ri had been “purged”, but added that “whether he was executed remains unclear”.
Some have cast doubt on the claims, pointing out that high-profile figures have reportedly been executed in the past, only to appear a short time later.
Kim Sang-woo from the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation told The Telegraph that the execution couldn’t be verified.
“It is possible, of course, but there have been times in the past when a high-level member of the government has disappeared only to reappear a few months later,” he said.
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He went on: “It is almost a tradition that someone has to take the blame for a failure somewhere, they are reprimanded and sent to a reform facility until they can emerge effectively redeemed.”
Ri would be the highest-profile North Korean figure to have been killed for several years.
His family are close to the regime, and have been trusted by Kim’s dynasty for decades.
It comes as Kim – who has been his country’s supreme leader since 2011 – prepares to celebrate his 39th birthday on Sunday.
Whether he was executed remains unclear
Ri served as ambassador at North Korea’s shabby embassy in Ealing, west London, between 2003 and 2007.
In 2016, he was appointed as Foreign Minister by Kim and became infamous for his fiery confrontations with his US counterparts.
At one memorable speech to the UN general assembly in 2017, Ri described then-President Donald Trump as a “Lying King” and “President Evil”.
But he later played a key role in negotiations between the two countries.
He spearheaded the shock talks held between Trump and Kim in Singapore.
However, a second summit in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi in early 2019 saw no deal reached either on curbing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or lifting international sanctions, and he was removed from his role that same year.
The reasons for Ri falling out of favour aren’t known, but are likely to be a combination of the failed US summits and internal power struggles.
His time as Foreign Minister also coincided with several other embarrassing diplomatic incidents for Kim.
In August 2016, then-deputy ambassador to Britain Thae Yong-ho defected to South Korea after saying he was unhappy with Kim’s regime and wanted a better future for his children.
Activists took over the North Korean embassy in the Spanish capital Madrid in February 2019, stealing computer hard drives and mobile phones before fleeing.
He was last seen in public in December 2019.
Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in the South Korean capital Seoul, told The Times that Kim appears to value personal loyalty and regime cohesion over everything else, and doesn’t always favour hardliners over bureaucrats.
“We don’t know exactly what happened to former foreign minister Ri Yong-ho, but he was likely purged from any position of influence some time ago,” he said.
“If he were actually executed, that would be a bad sign for the North Korean foreign ministry and prospects for diplomacy.”
It comes amid rumours “sickly” Kim is readying his sister and daughter to take over following months of alleged ill health.
Kim was pictured with his young daughter Kim Ju-ae for the first time in November as he held the child’s hand just before the test launch of a nuclear missile.
The girl, believed to be nine or ten, has been described by North Korean media as Kim’s “most beloved daughter”.
Pyongyang is known to put senior politicians to death once they fall out of favour with the regime.
The last high-profile killing was the execution of Kim’s uncle through marriage, Jang Song-thaek.
Jang, who was a former vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission, was put before a firing squad in 2013.
And in 2017, Kim was accused of orchestrating the assassination of his own half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, with a toxic nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Pyongyang has always denied this.