North Korea military drills
North Korea's president Kim Jong-un and senior military advisers on yet another inspection of something in North KoreaKCNA via Reuters

There is a new general in charge of North Korea's army, the country's state media has confirmed, as rumours swirl that his predecessor was executed. Ri Myong-su is the pariah state's new military chief of staff, according to the Korean Central News Agency. He replaces the out-of-favour Ri Yong-gil, who, unconfirmed reports in the South Korean media suggest, is now dead.

Formerly holding the title of "people's security minister", Ri Myong-su was recently referred to as "chief of the Korean people's army general staff" in a KCNA report on an army exercise.

According to a source quoted by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, Ri Yong-gil was executed after being accused of corruption and of forming a political faction. He is the third chief of staff to be executed by North Korean premier Kim Jong-un since he took power after his father's death in 2011.

Keep on purging

Kim's reign has been blighted by repeated purges of senior staff, most notably the execution of his influential uncle Jang Song-thaek in 2013. Many officials were removed in the months and years following Kim's elevation to North Korea's supreme leader in 2012, in what analysts believe are attempts to shore up an uncertain power base.

In May 2015 South Korea's parliament heard that the North's defence minister Hyon Yong-chol had been executed for showing "disloyalty" to Kim. Hyon is said to have been executed with an anti-aircraft gun in front of an audience, though this report was never confirmed.

Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul told AFP that the new military chief is "one of Mr Kim's top three aides" and is "known to be well-versed in missile technology".

Kim's North Korea conducted a fourth nuclear test last month and this month it also tested a long-range rocket, to a chorus of international outrage.