Tim Macfarlan

Five of the seven men who stood alongside Kim Yong-Un at his father's funeral less than four years ago have either disappeared, been brutally executed or banished.

Jang Song-thaek, Kim Ki Nam, Choe Tae-bok, Ri Yong-Ho, Kim Yong-chun, Kim Jong-gak and U Dong-chuk, who made up North Korea's political and military elite - were pallbearers at the state funeral of Kim Jong-il in December 2011.

The dictator's uncle, Jang, was allegedly executed by firing squad, Ri is presumed dead, one has disappeared and two have been banished. Only Kim Ki Nam, the regime's propaganda chief, and Choe Tae-bok, the chairman of its People's Assembly, remains at Kim's side.

The increasingly random and vicious means by which North Korea's leader attempts to shore-up his position have again been ruthlessly demonstrated by the reported latest execution of a top official, this time the country's defence minister.

Hyon Yong-Choi, 66, who was named head of North Korea's military in 2012, was butchered by an anti-aircraft gun in front of hundreds of bloodthirsty officials in a military camp in the capital on April 30.

His alleged crimes? It's believed he fell asleep during formal military events and spoke back to his all-powerful leader.

Just as Hyon was dealt with the moment Kim felt the need to make an example of him, the key figures at his father's funeral were expendable, according to a renowned North Korea expert.

Michael Madden, founder of the North Korea Leadership Watch blog, told MailOnline: 'Those guys were an amount of window dressing for Kim Jong-Un.

'They were there at the funeral so they could be seen to be regarding him as highly as they did his father. The group were around to make sure the elites respected the transition of power. 'It was like learning to ride a bike for Kim - now he's consolidated enough power he doesn't need that training.'

Taken out in a hail of bullets

Dozens of North Korean soldiers were reportedly killed in a fierce gun battle following the removal from office of army chief Ri Yong-Ho in July 2012.

He was relieved of his duties not much more than six months after Kim Jong-il's funeral, prompting an apparent firefight between government soldiers and personal guards loyal to him.

A South Korean newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, said it had been told by government officials in Seoul that the violence erupted when vice-marshal Choe Ryong Hae, director of the People's Army General Political Bureau, tried to detain Ri.

The officials said the vice marshal had been carrying out Kim Jong-Un's orders to sack him for reasons unknown.

One report said as many as 36 soldiers – for and against Mr Ri – died in the following melee.

It has not been established whether Mr Ri was injured or killed in the gun battle. He has not been seen in public since.

One source was quoted as saying that 'we cannot rule out the possibility that Ri was badly injured or even died during the firefight when his guards possibly tried to protect him.'

Exactly why Mr Ri was removed from the high office remains unclear, though the North Korean regime insisted that he had been allowed to step down due to illness.

In South Korea, analysts said they had no doubt that Ri had been sacked and might even have had to be physically removed from office.

... And the others who have fallen foul of Kim’s rage

Kim Jong-un has had around 15 senior officials put to death so far this year, according to the South Korean NIS intelligence service, contributing to a running total of around 70 since the end of 2011, when the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, propelled him to high office.

He has, in the process, displayed remarkable inventiveness, having many victims bumped off in circumstances that would do credit to a Bond villain.  

By April last year, 11 officials purportedly loyal to Jang Song Thaek had also met their maker, many in grimly bizarre circumstances. They included one O Sang-hon, a deputy minister at the Ministry for Public Security, who was tied up and then burned alive using a flame-thrower.

Kim Chol, a vice minister in the army, was meanwhile forced to walk onto a firing range which had been targeted for a mortar round, and ‘obliterated’.

Victims so far this year have included a vice-minister who complained about official policy on forestation, a politician in charge of economic planning who objected to the dictator’s efforts to change the design of the roof of a new public building and four members of a national orchestra accused of espionage.

The musicians were once contemporaries of a former cheerleader and cabaret singer called Ri So-ju, who is now Kim Jong-un’s wife and mother of his two-year-old daughter, leading to speculation that they were put to death at her behest, to settle old scores.

Kim Jong-un has 'enemy of

the state' executed by flamethrower

A senior North Korean official was executed with a flamethrower last year after Kim Jong-un branded him an 'enemy of the state'.

O Sang-hon is said to have been brutally killed for his close ties to the communist leader's uncle Jang Song-Thaek, who was himself publicly tried and executed in December after being found guilty of corruption and 'counter revolutionary' activities.

Mr O had been Mr Jang's deputy at North Korea's ministry of public security, and his execution by flamethrower took place after being found guilty of helping his boss turn the state department into a personal security division and hide corruption, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.

At the time of Mr Jang's removal a government statement was announced reading: 'The discovery and purge of the Jang group... made our party and revolutionary ranks purer.'–Daily Mail