According to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has reportedly executed the military official responsible for the country’s nuclear test site.
The newspaper cited an unnamed North Korean Defector and identified the official as Park In-Young, the head of North Korea’s Bureau 131. The Bureau, a division of the ruling party’s Central Committee, is responsible for the supervision of military facilities such as the Punggye-Ri underground nuclear test facility and the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.
The alleged execution follows a month-long speculation of another military official, General Hwang Pyong-So, also being executed after he suddenly disappeared from the public.
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Despite many U.S. and Europe-based media outlets steering clear of branding the recent disappearance of Park In-Young as an execution, Japanese media has been very accepting of the fact that this was most likely another high profile execution.
As reported by Asahi Shimbun, Park was most likely punished over delays to the September nuclear tests, the sixth and most powerful nuclear test North Korea has conducted this year. The September launch was supposedly scheduled for early spring 2017 but had to be postponed due to frequent delays in the tunnel construction. “It seems he took the blame as the prolonged mining of the nuclear facility pushed back the test date to September when it was initially set for spring,” said the defector.
However, the newspaper also speculated that his disappearance might have something to do with a collapse at a North Korean nuclear site back in October. Sources in North Korea have told the news channel that a tunnel at the Punggye-Ri test site collapsed due to substantial damage previous nuclear tests have caused to the existing tunnel network.
Around 100 workers were employed at excavating the tunnel at the time of the accident, and an additional 100 workers were sent to the scene after the collapse to search for and rescue survivors. According to Asahi Shimbun, all 200 of the workers died after the tunnel collapsed.
And while the exact date of the disaster has not been cited, the fact that it came less than a month after the most powerful underground nuclear test at the site comes as no surprise. With South Korean officials continually warning about the dangers of collapsing sites and nuclear leaks, it seems that the Punggye-Ri disaster was kept off the radar for a very good reason.
The Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, also reported that the September nuclear test caused a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, causing several buildings to collapse. According to the report, a school with more than 100 children in it has also collapsed. North Korean media have not reported any casualties, but as satellite images of the area following the test show extensive damage, the death toll was predicted to be in the hundreds.
Sticking to the schedule might have cost Park his life
With the pressure to complete its nuclear increasing each day, North Korea has gone to great lengths to make sure it sticks to Kim Jong-Un’s strict testing schedule. Sticking to the planned schedule despite the numerous safety concerns surrounding the test facilities has most likely caused the hundreds of deaths reported in the area, with Park most likely taking the blame.
However, many experts believe that despite frequent tests, North Korea still hasn’t developed the technology it needs to launch a fully functional nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. It’s also widely believed that Kim Jong-Un’s threats to the U.S., as well as his boasting about Pyongyang’s military might, are almost always hyperbolic and don’t reflect the actual circumstances in the country.
With a large percentage of North Korean media coverage based on fearmongering and deception, it’s hard to determine just how far Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear program has developed. Having the U.S. and South Korea doubt the effectiveness of its nuclear power has put North Korea in a very difficult position. Removing the weak links both from the military and the government, such as Park In-Yong and the recently missing Gen. Hwang Pyong-So, might give Kim Jong-Un an illusion of stability and power the country needs to complete its nuclear program.
However, the ease with which the country’s top management is removed and replaced will most definitely increase the tensions plaguing North Korea’s nuclear test facilities.