Seoul: North Korea has purged its vice foreign minister as punishment for the recent defection of the nuclear-armed country`s deputy ambassador to Britain, South Korean media reported Wednesday.
The mass-circulation JoongAng Ilbo, quoting an anonymous source familiar with North Korean affairs, said that Kung Sok-Ung had been removed from his post and expelled from Pyongyang to a rural farming area with his family.
It said the purge was ordered by supreme leader Kim Jong-Un following the defection of the North`s deputy ambassador to Britain, Thae Yong-Ho, and his family to the South two months ago.
"Since Thae Yong-Ho`s defection in late July, there has been an overall inspection throughout the foreign ministry," the source said.
"Kung Sok-Ung was held accountable for the embassies in Europe and purged as a result."
The report said four other high-ranking diplomats in charge of European affairs were also expelled from Pyongyang.
South Korea`s Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-Hee said the ministry was in the process of "verifying" the report but offered no further comment.
The 72-year-old Kung is a veteran diplomat who had been looking after North Korea`s diplomacy with Russia and Europe for nearly two decades.
Since taking power in 2011, Kim has ordered numerous executions and purges of high-ranking officials to solidify his grip on power.
In August, South Korea`s unification ministry confirmed that the North executed a vice premier for education for showing disrespect to the leader during a meeting.
The most notorious case was that of Kim`s uncle and one-time number two, Jang Song-Thaek, who was executed for charges including treason and corruption in December 2013.
South Korea`s Yonhap news agency has put the number of party officials executed during Kim`s rule at over 100.