May 11, 2016 11:11
North Korean Army chief Gen. Ri Yong-gil, who was believed to have been abruptly executed in February, is apparently still alive as his name appeared on a list of high-profile officials.
Ri was listed among members of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission in a statement issued by North Korean state media during a report on the party congress that ended Monday.
Intelligence officials here ended up with more egg on their face after a series of blunders including that another senior army officer had been sacked.
There are now calls for South Korean intelligence officials not to rush into trumpeting their finding until they have better corroboration.
The government first learned about Ri's rumored execution on Feb. 10, a day after the Kaesong Industrial Complex was closed down. At the time, the government said Ri was executed on Feb. 2 or 3 after a meeting of party and military officials.
News of his execution was a surprise since he was responsible for the box mine attacks in the demilitarized zone last year and thought to be among leader Kim Jong-un's most trusted officers.
At the time, intelligence officials here claimed Ri had been charged with forming a political faction, abuse of power, and corruption. But now it seems unlikely he was charged with anything of the sort, and it is unclear where the information came from.
Other blunders by the National Intelligence Service include telling the National Assembly that Kim Jong-un would attend Russia's Victory Day ceremony in May last year, a day before the North declined the invitation. In November, the NIS told the National Assembly that Pak Jong-chon, former head of the North Korean Army's artillery command, had been sacked, only for Pak to appear in full regalia in the official media shortly afterward.
The NIS has also flip-flopped on an almost weekly basis in its estimates of the North's nuclear capabilities, and the press here relies increasingly on U.S. experts like the 38 North website at Johns Hopkins University.
It could be dangerous if the blunders continue. One intelligence expert said, "Erroneous information could have a decisive impact on our security policies and escalate diplomatic problems."
In February, intelligence officials told lawmakers that Russia appears to have supplied long-range missile parts to North Korea. The Russian government denied the allegations as "irresponsible and unprofessional."
The government here is worried about its own credibility. "The more blunders intelligence officials make about North Korea, the more we'll be accused of leaking false information for propaganda purposes," a government official said.
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