A high ranking official, once described as the ‘second most powerful man in North Korea’, has disappeared from public life, sparking speculation he may have been executed by death squads.
General Hwang Pyong-so was once the most senior military official in the hermit state as a Vice-Marshall after the supreme leader.
The speculation comes days after Kim Jong-un visited the significant Mt. Paektu on Friday, a sign that suggested he was planning to execute a top official. Such visits to the mystical mountain often precede important decisions by North Korean leaders.
Pyong-so was reported to have been expelled from the party for ‘taking bribes’ and has not been seen since October.
His deputy Kim Wong-hong is said to have been banished to a prison camp.
The South Korean JoongAng Ilbo reported: ‘If Hwang was indeed kicked out of the Workers’ Party, it would practically mean the end of his political career, and possibly his life, though it is unknown whether or not he is still alive.’
‘Kim visited the mountain and ordered the site managers to construct hospitable accommodations on the mountain for visitors,’ the state-run KCNA reported on Saturday.
In November 2013, the despot visited the mountain with his aides a month before he executed top officials including Jang Song-thaek, his uncle and political guardian.
Kim visited the mountain again in April 2015, before executing Hyon Yong-chol, a former defense chief.
He had also made a pilgrimage after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test in September 2016
Pictures show Kim wandering around on the snow-capped mountain with hardly a bead of sweat and wearing spotless and shiny shoes. Kim made a trip to the summit after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test in September 2016.
‘[Kim Jong-un’s father] Kim Jong-il did the same, he visited the mountain right before announcing in 1974 his list of 10 social decorum,’ said a South Korean government insider.
‘Kim also visited the mountain just before executing Kim Tong-kyu, then-senior official for international affairs, in 1977,’ they added.
Mount Paektu has been decreed as the ‘sacred’ birthplace of the secretive state’s first dictator, Kim’s grandfather.
Pictures released by the regime show Kim in the snowon North Korea’s border with China, which the regime rewrote history to claim was birthplace of Kim Il-Sung, the Communist who ruled from after the Second World War until 1994.
He was in fact born in the Soviet Union, but the mountain, has long been integral to the country’s identity.
It is reputedly the birthplace of the earliest Korean leader ever recorded, Dangun, who according to legend founded the early kingdom of Gojoseon in 2333BC.
The mountain is believed to be the site of the deadliest volcano eruption in history and there are fears it may erupt again as a result of North Korea’s nuclear weapons testing.
A thousand years ago it exploded so violently that ash fell as far away as northern Japan.
Last month Bruce Bennett, a senior defence analyst at the Rand Corporation, warned one of the nuclear weapon tests carried out by North Korea could have a catastrophic effect.
North Korea, formally called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), last week tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, saying the device could reach all of the United States.
Two U.S. B-1B heavy bombers joined large-scale combat drills over South Korea on Thursday amid warnings from North Korea that the exercises and U.S. threats have made the outbreak of war ‘an established fact.’
The annual U.S.-South Korean ‘Vigilant Ace’ exercises feature 230 aircraft, including some of the most advanced U.S. stealth warplanes.
North Korea’s foreign ministry blamed the drills and ‘confrontational warmongering’ by U.S. officials for making war inevitable.
U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at the weekend the possibility of war was ‘increasing every day.’
He said Trump was prepared to take action against North Korea but was working to convince China, Russia and others to do more to press Pyongyang to get it to give up its weapons programs.
U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urged the Pentagon on Sunday to start moving U.S. military dependants out of South Korea, saying conflict with North Korea was getting close.
The Pentagon said it has ‘no intent’ to move out any dependants.
Joseph Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, will travel to Japan and Thailand next week to meet government officials ‘to discuss ways to strengthen the pressure campaign following the DPRK latest ballistic missile test,’ the State Department.
‘The United States looks forward to continuing its partnership with both these nations so that the DPRK will return to credible talks on denuclearization,’ it added.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says he believes the chances of dialogue to resolve the tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program are low.
Lavrov was speaking Friday while attending an OSCE ministerial summit in Vienna.
He said ‘the North Koreans have told us more than once that they need security guarantees, especially in the situation when Washington is trying to withdraw from the agreements on the Iranian nuclear programme’.