WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The State Department did not rule out the possibility a top North Korean general was executed as the United States, South Korea and Japan each took measures to expand economic sanctions against Pyongyang.
Deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday there is "no reason to doubt" Kim Jong Un carried out the purge that led to the death of Ri Yong Gil, chief of the North Korean Army's general staff and No. 3 in its hierarchy.
"[You've] got a leader who carries out purges of his cabinet or of his administration periodically," Toner said. "We have no reason to doubt that this is the case this time, and that this individual was killed – executed."
Kim ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek in 2013, and in 2015 purged and likely executed Pyongyang's Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol.
North Korea's provocative tests of a nuclear weapon in January and a "satellite" launch on Saturday have accelerated plans to toughen U.S., Japan, and South Korea sanctions.
In Japan, sanctions are likely to extend to third-party dealers who provide North Korea with supplies that could be used by Pyongyang's military.
Kyodo News reported Friday local time at least three North Korean ships were found to have been equipped with Japan-made radars for civilian use.
The findings were included in the most recent report presented by a panel of experts on the North Korea sanctions committee at the United Nations Security Council.
Japan has banned all trade with North Korea, but the report indicated North Korea was acquiring Japan-made technology through hidden channels.
The panel also raised concerns that any maritime electronic equipment from Japan could be retrofitted for North Korea naval ship use. According to the committee report, in February 2015 North Korea's state newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, ran an image of a vessel equipped with a Japanese radar.