Hyon Yong Chol came into prominence in 2010 when he was promoted to four-star general, but recently was purged by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo by Rodong Sinmun/Yonhap
SEOUL, May 13 (UPI) -- South Korea's spy agency said it cannot confirm the execution of North Korea defense chief Hyon Yong Chol, hours after making the opposite claim to South Korean lawmakers.
South Korean lawmaker Kim Kwang-jin told ABC News that Seoul's National Intelligence Service had said in a closed briefing that Hyon was publicly executed for napping and "behaving disrespectfully."
The NIS also said Hyon was executed on April 29 or 30 through the use of anti-aircraft machine guns in an area 13 miles north of Pyongyang – as hundreds of high-ranking military personnel watched.
South Korean lawmaker Shin Kyoung-min, who said Hyon was seen attending a concert in Pyongyang just a day or two before his alleged execution, questioned the claim.
"We've seen Hyon even yesterday on TV," Shin said Wednesday. "If North Korea really executed their No. 2 man in charge of defense, they would make sure he disappears on every single program. That's definitely their style."
By late afternoon, the spy agency revised its statement, saying Hyon was purged, but maybe not executed.
"We do have intelligence information that he had been killed by gunfire but that is yet to be verified," a spy agency spokesman told ABC.
But analysts in South Korea said confirmed executions inside North Korea were indicative of diminished loyalty toward North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Chang Yong-seok, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul Nation University, told The Korea Herald Kim purges or kills members of government who are displeased with his unilateral approach to various policies.
Chang said Kim might have felt a "sense of inferiority and growing pressure to press [his policies] and make them successful," even as doubts emerged among the political elite.
Hyon came into prominence in 2010 when he was promoted to four-star general. He became a member of North Korea's National Defense Commission in 2014.