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Kim executes his defence chief with an anti-aircraft gun for nodding off an event

Execution: Hyon Yong Chol was charged with treason
Execution: Hyon Yong Chol was charged with treason

North Korea executed its defense chief by putting him in front of an anti-aircraft gun at a firing range, Seoul's National Intelligence Service told lawmakers, which would be the latest in a series of high-level purges since Kim Jong Un took charge.

Hyon Yong Chol, who headed the isolated nuclear-capable country's military, was charged with treason, including disobeying Kim and falling asleep during an event at which North Korea's young leader was speaking, according to South Korean lawmakers briefed in a closed-door meeting with the spy agency on Wednesday.

His execution was watched by hundreds of people, according to NIS intelligence shared with lawmakers.

It was not clear how the NIS obtained the information and it is not possible to independently verify such reports from within secretive North Korea.

"The NIS official said it had been confirmed by multiple sources. It is still just intelligence, but he said they were confident," Shin Kyoung-min, a lawmaker and member of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, who attended the briefing, told Reuters.

Experts on North Korea said there was no sign of instability in Pyongyang, but there could be if purges continued.

Kim had previously ordered the execution of 15 senior officials this year as punishment for challenging his authority, according to the NIS. In all, some 70 officials have been executed since Kim took over after his father's death in 2011, Yonhap news agency cited the NIS as saying.

"There is no clear or present danger to Kim Jong Un's leadership or regime stability, but if this continues to happen into next year, then we should seriously start to think about revising our scenarios on North Korea," said Michael Madden, an expert on the country's leadership who contributes to the 38 North think tank in Washington.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea specialist at Dongguk University in Seoul, said the regime could "reach its limit" if Kim's purges continued.

"But it's still too early to tell," said Koh.

The lawmakers said Hyon, 66, was executed at a firing range at the Kanggon Military Training Area, 14 miles north of Pyongyang, according to the NIS.

The U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said last month that, according to satellite images, the range was likely used for an execution by ZPU-4 anti-aircraft guns in October. The target was just 100 feet away from the weapons, which have a range of 8,000 meters, it said.

- Reuters