SEOUL, South Korea — Even to longtime analysts familiar with the unpredictability of the North Korean government, the news was shocking: a top general, the country’s equivalent of a defense minister, who had delivered a speech at an international symposium in Moscow last month, was executed by an antiaircraft gun while hundreds of fellow generals and senior party officials watched.
At least, that is what South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said happened to the general, Hyon Yong-chol on April 30, according to South Korean lawmakers emerging from a closed-door parliamentary briefing by the spy agency on Wednesday.
There were analysts in South Korea who questioned the authenticity of the report and the spy agency’s motive in releasing it. Among other things, they said, General Hyon, the North Korean People’s Armed Forces minister, was still shown alongside North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in old propaganda films broadcast this week. In the past, one of the first things the government did about people who had been purged was to remove their images or names from official records.