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Gun battles in North Korea as Army Chief is purged?

The Korean People's Army chief Ri Yong-ho with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un Photo: Reuters

Reports in South Korean media based on unnamed 'intelligence sources' suggest around 20 soldiers were killed during a gun battle when soldiers were sent to detain the former North Korean Army Chief Ri Yong Ho last week.

The head of the powerful army stepped down 'due to illness' according to an announcement by North Korean state media last Sunday. Western diplomats have been sceptical about that reason but are more dubious about reports of a gunfight.

The unconfirmed reports suggest that guards loyal to Ri Yong Ho defended him and that the senior officer may have been wounded or killed himself.

The problem is South Korean media has a track record in producing alarming reports based on anonymous sources.

In 1986 a newspaper produced a stand alone issue with the shock exclusive news that Kim Il Sung, the first President of North Korea had been shot dead on his train. A day later he was seen on TV. He died in 1994.

Recently rumours pinged around the world on Twitter suggesting that Kim Jung Un had been assassinated in the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. Again Kim Jung Un was seen shortly afterwards in Pyongyang alive and well.

When it comes to reports of gunfire and assassinations within the North Korean regime's inner circle it appears that there's what might be called wishful thinking from some sections of the South Korean media.