“North Korea officially publicized Ri’s photo and recent state, so we came to believe that he was not executed,” the source told CNN on Tuesday.
At the time of his purported execution, Ri was the chief of the North Korean Army’s general staff. He was appointed to the position in 2013, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. It’s unclear if he remains in that position.
Executions have been widely cited as a political tool used by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to consolidate his power.
In May of last year, Hyon Yong-chol, the country’s defense minister, was publicly executed after the regime accused him of treason. He was reportedly killed with an anti-aircraft gun.
Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was branded a “traitor for all ages,” and executed in 2013.
CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph contributed to this report.