The sacked Commander-in-Chief of the North Korean forces may have been among the 20 or 30 North Korean soldiers killed during a gun fight when the incoming commander attempted to carry out orders to sack him, according to a major South Korean news website.
Unconfirmed intelligence reports suggest Ri Yong-ho, the sacked army chief may have been injured or killed in the fight, according Chosun.com, ranked as the No1 Korean news website by the Internet survey company Rankey.com reported. Ri has not been seen since earlier this week,
“We cannot rule out the possibility that Ri was injured or even killed in the firefight,” said one source, the website reported.
Guards protecting Ri apparently opened fire when the new commander-in-chief, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, attempted to detain him on orders from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to Seoul-based government officials.
Choe is believed to be the right-hand man of Jang Song-taek, the uncle and patron of the North Korean leader, the website reported.
Choe made his career in the Workers Party rather than the army, and after being appointed director of the bureau, repeatedly clashed with Ri, whose career was based on his role as a field commander, the newspaper reported. Choe kept Ri under surveillance and apparently triggered an internal probe of Ri, Chosun.com reported.
Ri who became extremely powerful under former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s “songun” or military-first doctrine were considered threats to the young North Korean leader, the website said. “The firefight has still not been 100 percent confirmed,” said a government official here. “It may take some time for us to gain a clearer picture of what happened.”
Chosun.com is affiliated with Chosunilbo, a South Korean newspaper with a daily circulation of 2.2 million copies, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.