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North Korea official seen not applauding for Kim Jong Un in recent photo

Kim Jong Un (C) presided over North Korea’s first-ever workshop for military commanders last week, according to KCNA. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE
Kim Jong Un (C) presided over North Korea’s first-ever workshop for military commanders last week, according to KCNA. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE

Aug. 4 (UPI) -- A senior-ranking North Korean military official with a troubled past was seen refraining from clapping for Kim Jong Un at last week's workshop for Pyongyang's military commanders, raising questions in the South about the status of Ri Yong Gil.

Korean Workers' Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Friday published 48 photos of the workshop after the event ended June 27. On the fourth page of the issue, an image of military officials offering Kim a standing ovation showed Ri in his seat. He also was seen looking down at the floor.

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The photo of Ri could have captured a brief moment when he may have not had the time to get on his feet. A North Korean defector source in the South said that the photo could have been a "simple mistake" that places Ri in an unfair light, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported Wednesday.

But there is "still a possibility it will act as a negative for Ri," the source said, according to the report.

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Ri was appointed to the position of defense minister in July, according to Korea JoongAng Daily. The assessment came from the South Korean government after Kim visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in June, when Ri was seen standing close to the North Korean leader.

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Ri was promoted to captain eight months after an initial promotion in 2012, when Kim fully assumed power. Before the promotions, Ri was the commander of North Korea's 5th Corps in Kangwon Province, according to the Chosun.

The North Korean official may have fallen out of favor with Kim in 2016, when he was dismissed from a position that is the North Korean equivalent of chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

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Speculation arose in the South at the time that Ri may have ben executed until his name appeared in a list of Politburo members -- 10th in a roster of senior North Korean officials -- published in the Rodong Sinmun in May that year.

Since fully assuming power in 2012, Kim has ordered the execution of his uncle-in-law Jang Song Thaek in 2013, and executed his defense minister, Hyon Yong Chol, in 2015.

Hyon was dismissed after being charged with insubordination and dozing off at meetings, according to South Korean intelligence at the time.

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