WASHINGTON The United States said on Thursday it had no reason to doubt reports that North Korea executed its army chief of staff, describing it as typical of Pyongyang's brutal political climate.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday that North Korea had executed the army chief of staff, Ri Yong Gil. A source familiar with North Korean affairs who declined to be named also told Reuters that Ri had been executed.
"We have no reason to doubt that ... this individual was killed, executed," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "It exemplifies ... the brutality of the political climate in North Korea."
He added: "This is ... par for the course in North Korea that you’ve got a leader who carries out purges."
The news comes amid heightened tension surrounding isolated North Korea after its launch on Sunday of a long-range rocket, which came about a month after it drew international condemnation for conducting its fourth nuclear test.
The North rarely issues public announcements related to purges or executions of high-level officials.
A rare official confirmation of a high-profile execution came after Jang Song Thaek, leader Kim Jong Un's uncle and the man once considered the second most powerful figure in the country, was executed for corruption in 2013.
In May last year, the North executed its defense chief by anti-aircraft gun at a firing range, the South's spy agency said in a report to members of parliament.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Peter Cooney)