SEOUL, South Korea (Associated Press) — North Korea executed a former Cabinet official who was in charge of talks with South Korea, a news report said Tuesday, the latest reported death sentence for a North Korean official over policy failures.
Kwon Ho Ung – Pyongyang's chief delegate from 2004 to 2007 for high-level talks with the South's then liberal government – was executed by firing squad, Seoul's mass-circulation Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said, citing an unidentified source in Beijing knowledgeable about the North.
South Korean Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said she could not confirm the report, and the National Intelligence Service, South Korea's top spy agency, said it was checking it.
The two Koreas held Cabinet-level talks – the highest regular dialogue channel between them – several times a year to discuss boosting exchanges and easing tension across the world's most heavily fortified border. The last round was held in 2007.
Kwon was the former chief councilor of the North's Cabinet, but it was not clear what about his policy would have prompted his execution.
The reported execution comes as tensions between the two Koreas simmer over the March sinking of a South Korean warship that has been blamed on North Korea. North Korea has denied involvement in the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.
Relations between the Koreas have been particularly rocky since a pro-U.S., conservative government took office in Seoul in early 2008 with a tough policy on Pyongyang.
The newspaper report said it had not confirmed when and where Kwon was executed. The allegation follows other reported executions of North Korean officials for policy blunders.
In March, the North executed two senior economic officials over a botched currency revamp that forced markets to close temporarily and fueled social tensions, according to Daily NK, a Seoul-based media outlet that specializes in the North.
The North redenominated its won in December as part of efforts to fight inflation and reassert control over its burgeoning market economy. That reportedly sparked unrest after many North Koreans were stuck with piles of worthless bills.
It is not unprecedented for the communist regime to execute officials for policy failures. In the 1990s, North Korea publicly executed a top agricultural official following widespread famine.
North Korea is regarded as having one of the worst human rights records, characterized by public executions, camps for political prisoners and torture. North Korea claims it has no human rights problems and treats outside criticism of the issue as a thinly veiled attack on the regime.