North Korea’s Defence Minister Hyon Yong-chol has been executed for showing disloyalty to leader Kim Jong-un, South Korea’s spy agency has told parliament.
MPs were told Mr Hyon was killed on 30 April by anti-aircraft fire in front of an audience of hundreds, the Yonhap news agency reports.
It said Mr Hyon had fallen asleep during an event attended by Kim Jong-un and had not carried out instructions.
The news comes weeks after the reported execution of 15 senior officials.
Among them were two vice ministers who had challenged Mr Kim over his policies and members of an orchestra, the South’s National Intelligence Agency (NIS) said at the time.
Mr Kim purged and executed his once-powerful uncle for treachery in 2013.
Analysts told the BBC that while reshuffles of officials are commonplace in North Korea, the execution of a figure as close to Mr Kim as Mr Hyon was surprising and could give cause for concern about the country’s stability.
Mr Hyon is believed to have been a general since 2010, though little is known about him. He served on the committee for late leader Kim Jong-il’s funeral in December 2011, an indication of his growing influence.
He was appointed defence minister last year. NK News said he last appeared in state media a day before the alleged execution date.
Last month, he travelled to Moscow to represent North Korea at a regional security conference, an event the NIS had originally reported that Mr Kim would attend himself.
Mike Madden of North Korea Leadership Watch told the BBC that if true, the execution was “entirely a demonstration of power and authority”.
“This is indicative of Kim Jong-un’s impulsive decision-making”, he said, and a sign of a leader who is “not feeling secure”.
Mr Kim has conducted a series of purges of close officials since becoming North Korea’s leader.
The most notable was his uncle, Chang Song-thaek – once the country’s second-most powerful figure.
He was arrested in December 2013 in front of a party meeting, found guilty of treason and immediately executed. The move was widely seen as the young Mr Kim stamping his authority.
There have been reports before of North Korea using heavy weaponry in executions, including mortars.
Last month, a rights groups released satellite images it said showed unusual activity on a small arms range at the Kanggon army training area in October 2014.
The US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said the images showed large weaponry facing a very close target, a viewing area and several passenger vehicles.
It said the “most plausible explanation” for the image was a “gruesome public execution” by anti-aircraft fire.