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North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Had Military Chief Executed: South Officials

The execution of Army General Ri Yong-Gil would be the latest in a series of killings, purges and dismissals since Kim took power in late 2011.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has executed one of his top military chiefs for corruption and other charges, various South Korean officials said Wednesday.

"(Army General) Ri Yong-Gil stopped appearing at important functions and I am getting multiple confirmations from diversified North Korean sources that Ri has been executed," a South Korean assemblyman told NBC News.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported the killing citing a source "familiar with North Korean affairs."

And The Associated Press quoted an unnamed South Korean official as saying that Ri's execution was part of Kim's effort to bolster his grip on power.

Other charges Ri faced before his execution were abusing his power and forming a clique, the official said.

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The execution of Ri, chief of the North Korean military's general staff, would be the latest in a series of killings, purges and dismissals since Kim took power in late 2011.

Details about North Korea's opaque government are notoriously difficult for outsiders to get, even national governments, and South Korean officials have a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea.

This undated file photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on October 15, 2015 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) sharing a light moment with the man identified by South Korea media as Ri Yong-Gil, chief of the Korean People's Army (KPA) General Staff.KNS / AFP - Getty Images

Ri, an army general who took up the top military job in 2013, had been considered as one of Kim's trusted aides because he frequently accompanied his inspection tours of army units and factories.

Speculation about Ri's well-being mounted after he missed two major events: a meeting of senior ruling Workers' Party officials and a rally celebrating the totalitarian nation's rocket launch this week.

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The Workers' Party meeting presided over by Kim focused on rooting out corruption and abuses of power and "bureaucratism," according to the North's state media.

South Korea's intelligence service said last year that 70 North Korean officials have been executed since Kim's inauguration.

The most notable executions were the killings of Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong Chol for disloyalty in 2015 and Kim's powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek for alleged treason in 2013.

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Some outside experts have said repeated bloody power shifts in North Korea indicated the young leader is still struggling to establish himself.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. lawmakers moved to punish Kim for his long-range ballistic missile ambitions.