Recent reports based on comments by an anonymous South Korean official suggest that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might have embarked on a new military purge. General Pyon In-son, the head of operations of the Korean People’s Army and a swift riser through KPA ranks, was reportedly “killed for expressing an opinion different to that of Kim,” according to Bloomberg. The incident will emphasize discipline — i.e. complying with Kim Jong-un’s vision — across the entire KPA establishment.
Kim Jong-un, in general, is suspected to mistrust several senior KPA commanders, many of whom held senior positions during his father’s tenure as supreme leader. In November, Kim purged a senior National Defense Commission official, Ma Won-chun, for corrupt practices and a failure to follow orders. Purges have been an important part of Kim Jong-un’s lengthy power consolidation process. Most famously, in December 2013, Kim purged and executed his own uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was at the time the effective second-in-command of the regime and its primary interlocutor with China.
Pyon In-son was promoted to four-star rank within the KPA in March 2014 and was subsequently removed from his position in November. As NKNews noted back in June 2014, Pyon succeeded Ri Yong-gil as director of the General Staff Operations Bureau of the KPA. Ri Yong-gil disappeared some time in mid-2014 and is suspected to have been purged as well. According to NK News, “Pyon previously served as commander of the KPA’s IV and VII Corps and in 2013 became a vice minister of the People’s Armed Forces. He is also a member of the party Central Committee and has represented North Korea in military-to-military talks with China.” A detailed summary of Pyon’s career within the KPA is available over at NK Leadership Watch.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Over 50 officials, many affiliated with the KPA, were executed in 2014 as part of Kim Jong-un’s wide-ranging purge. It is unclear if Kim suspects that his authority is being undermined by senior commanders that served his father. Nevertheless, if previous executions hadn’t sent a message to senior members of the KPA, Pyon’s execution should be a reminder that even those who were promoted recently by Kim Jong-un himself aren’t immune to scrutiny.