North Korea’s vice-premier Choe Yong-gon was executed in May on the orders of supreme leader Kim Jong-un, the South Korean government says.
Choe Yong-gon was executed after he “expressed discomfort against the young leader’s forestation policy”, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.
Close to 70 officials have been killed under Kim Jong-un’s rule, Yonhap says.
North Korea rarely confirms South Korea’s reports of executions.
Choe Yon-gon was last seen publicly in December, South Korea’s unification ministry said.
The ministry said it was “closely monitoring the possibility of any changes in Choe’s circumstances”.
Choe Yong-gon was deputy minister of construction and building material industries, and had represented North Korea in trade talks in Seoul in the mid-2000s.
He was appointed as one of seven vice-premiers in June 2014, and his promotion was seen by one analyst as a sign Pyongyang was keen to maintain close ties with South Korea.
In April, South Korea’s intelligence agency said Kim Jong-un had ordered the execution of 15 officials in the first four months of the year.
Among them was a forestry official who complained about the leader’s forestation plan, the agency said at the time, but it is not clear if this man was Choe Yong-gon.
In May, the agency said North Korean Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol was reportedly executed by anti-aircraft fire for apparently showing disloyalty to the leader.
The reports of the killing of Choe Yong-gon for disagreeing with Kim Jong-un’s forestry policy bring into focus a program that is closely followed by the leader.
North Korea is suffering its worst drought in a century and close to a third of rice paddies have dried up.
Radio Free Asia says the country launched an intensive “greenification” program last year, with more power granted to every province’s forestry department.
In a speech in February, Kim Jong-un delivered a speech in which he said: “At present, the forests of the country can be said to have reached a crossroads – whether to perish for ever or to be restored.”
Kim Jong-un also criticized officials for seeking to respond to problems caused by flooding, rather than prevent flooding in the first place by planting more trees.