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‘No trace’ left after extreme executions in North Korea

- - Thursday, March 22, 2012

SEOUL — North Korea's young new leader, Kim Jong-un, has instituted a novel method of executing military officers — mortar firing squad, South Korea's leading daily newspaper reported Tuesday.

The 20-something Mr. Kim ordered a military officer to be executed in a way that would leave "no trace of him behind, down to his hair," the daily Chosun Ilbo reported, quoting a South Korean government source.

The officer was placed at the aiming point of a mortar range, where an artillery shell exploded and blew him to pieces, the newspaper reported. His crime: being caught drunk during the mourning period for Kim Jong-il, Mr. Kim's father and predecessor who died in December.

The execution was part of a purge of "unsound" military officers that took place under the control of the new supreme leader, the paper reported.

"When Kim Jong-un became North Korean leader following the mourning period for his father in late December, high-ranking military officers started disappearing," the South Korean government source told Chosun Ilbo. "From information compiled over the last month, we have concluded that dozens of military officers were purged."

Mr. Kim also ordered loyal officials to "get rid of" anyone caught misbehaving during the mourning period for his father, the source added.

The North Korean People's Army uses Warsaw Pact 82 mm mortars that fire artillery shells that weigh as much as 7 pounds and produce a killing radius of about 17 yards on impact.

The Chosun Ilbo report is the first to note such an explosive method of execution used in Korea, but there are historical precedents in other countries. For example, during the 1857 Indian Mutiny, vengeful British forces earned notoriety for blasting captured mutineers from a cannon.

Those familiar with the secretive North Korean regime say its authorities are not shy about using the grisliest execution techniques.

"I have not heard of mortar executions, but it is possible, as the North Korean government uses the most horrible methods," Shin Ju-hyun of the Daily NK, a South Korean nonprofit group with intelligence about North Korea, told Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"One defector told me of an execution in which 90 bullets were fired. Afterwards, the victim's body was so torn apart, it was impossible to identify," Mr. Shin said.

Some regional analysts were hesitant to grant full credibility to the report in Chosun Ilbo, a conservative paper.

"In recent years, South Korea media and authorities have been far more skeptical of the weird and wonderful stories coming out of North Korea, such as cannibalism," said Michael Breen, a biographer of Kim Jong-il.

"This is the first juicy story about Kim Jong-un, and it is almost certainly from low-grade intelligence that got distorted in the telling. But there is a constituency that wants to believe it."

Still, Mr. Breen did not dismiss the report entirely. "Who knows?" he said. "It may be true."