Photo: KCNA via Reuters

Two top officials of an important North Korean military bureau have been punished for their “impure attitude”, according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Yonhap quotes officials of the country’s spy agency as saying on Monday that the unspecified punishments were meted out during a rare inspection of the North Korean military’s General Political Bureau. Word of the alleged crackdown comes amid reports of a resumption of executions and other punishments by leader Kim Jong-un’s government after a relative lull.

Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Won-hong, the bureau’s chief and deputy chief, were reportedly singled out in what was described as the first official inspection of the agency in two decades. The information was disclosed by the NIS in a briefing to South Korea’s parliament.

The unusual inspection was reportedly led by Choe Ryong-hae, the vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.

“We have been watching the situation as we have gathered such intelligence (on the punishment),” the agency was quoted by Rep. Kim Byung-kee of the ruling Democratic Party as saying.

Asked to elaborate on the punishment, the lawmaker said that the NIS is still trying to get details.

Yonhap says the bureau is an influential organ insofar as it manages the critical personnel of other military agencies such as the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces.

The punishment against Hwang was said to be a surprise as he had been viewed as one of Pyongyang’s most powerful military figures.

The NIS also noted to lawmakers that the North has been trying to forestall a negative impact from a tightening of international sanctions on public sentiment. North Korea has faced stiffer international sanctions since its sixth nuclear test on September 3.

Missile test possible

The NIS, in addition, said that it has been closely monitoring to see if Pyongyang will conduct another missile test. It said such a test might be carried out under the “disguise of peaceful space development,” according to Yonhap. North Korea hasn’t conducted a missile test since September 15.

As to the possibility of another nuclear explosion, the NIS said there are currently no signs of an imminent test.

“But we forecast that depending upon North Korean leader Kim’s determination, a nuclear test is possible any time,” the agency said.

Moreover, the NIS said that Tunnel 3 of the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site is currently available for a test, while the North has recently resumed construction on Tunnel 4 at the same facility.