- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2010

SEOUL (AP) | North Korea executed a former senior official last week as punishment for the country’s botched currency reform, a news report said Thursday.

In November, North Korea redenominated its currency as part of efforts to lower inflation and reassert control over the country’s nascent market economy. However, the measure reportedly worsened the country’s food situation by forcing the closure of markets and sparked anger among many North Koreans left with piles of worthless bills.

Pak Nam-gi, the ruling Workers’ Party finance and planning department chief who spearheaded the currency reform, was executed by a firing squad in Pyongyang last week, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified sources.

Mr. Pak was accused of ruining the nation’s economy in a blunder that also damaged public opinion and had a negative impact on leader Kim Jong-il’s plan to hand power over to his youngest son, Yonhap said.

Citing its sources, Yonhap said many North Koreans believe the government used Mr. Pak as a scapegoat for the failed currency reform.

Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector in Seoul who is a key organizer of a campaign to send anti-government leaflets into the North, said a contact there told him in a recent telephone conversation that there were rumors Mr. Pak was either executed or sent to a political prison.

Despite tough restrictions, some North Koreans are able to communicate with the outside world using Chinese cell-phone networks, according to defectors.

North Korea has reopened hundreds of markets since the botched reform, but the prices of the few goods available have continued to rise, according to Lee Seung-yong, an official of Good Friends, a Buddhist-affiliated group that sends food and other aid to the North.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry and National Intelligence Service - its main spy agency - said they could not confirm Mr. Pak’s reported execution.

Mr. Pak was last mentioned by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency in January when he accompanied Mr. Kim on an inspection trip. Mr. Kim fired Mr. Pak after arguments within the country’s leadership over who should take responsibility for the currency fiasco, South Korean media reported last month.

It is not unprecedented for the communist government to execute officials for policy failures.

In the 1990s, North Korea publicly executed a top agricultural official after widespread starvation, Mr. Park said.

The North faces chronic food shortages and has relied on outside assistance to feed much of its population since a famine believed to have killed as many as 2 million people in the 1990s.

North Korea is regarded as having one of the world’s worst human rights records with public executions, camps for political prisoners and torture.

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