Kim Yong-chol: 'Purged' N Korean diplomat appears with Kim

Saul Bowman
June 4, 2019

During an amateur art performance by the wives of officers in the North Korean Army attended by Mr Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju on Sunday, Mr Kim Yong Chol was among "leading officials" who accompanied them, according to KCNA on Monday.

A senior North Korean official believed to have been exiled to a labor camp after US-Korea nuclear talks fell apart in February was spotted hob-nobbing with dictator Kim Jong Un during an art performance Sunday.

The U.S. -North Korea nuclear talks have been deadlocked since the Hanoi summit in late February collapsed without a deal due to major differences over the scope of Pyongyang's denuclearization and potential sanctions relief by Washington.

It was also a reminder of how little outsiders know about how Kim Jong Un reacted to the breakdown of his recent summit meeting with President Trump.

Some officials who worked with Kim Yong Chol have been out of the public eye since the summit.

If reports of Kim Yong Chol being sentenced to hard labor were accurate, it would mark a spectacular fall from grace for one of the men considered one of Kim Jong Un's closest aides.

The Chosun Ilbo also reported that senior envoy Kim Hyok Chol, who was involved in pre-summit discussions with USA officials, was executed by firing squad along with four other officials from the North's Foreign Ministry for treason.

The idea that Kim Yong Chol had been purged post-Hanoi also appeared to be contradicted by the fact that he was listed as being reelected to the Supreme People's Assembly, the country's rubber-stamp parliament, and to the State Affairs Commission, a key decision-making body, in mid-April, the NK News website, the sister-site to NK Pro, pointed out. "It's very unlikely for Kim to wield such an extreme punishment unless he has given up on talks with the United States".

The South's Munhwa Ilbo afternoon paper carried the photo on the front page of its Monday edition, with the headline: "Kim Yong Chol, rumoured to be purged, affirms his position next to Kim Jong-un".

Cheong said it wouldn't make sense for Kim Jong Un to execute Kim Hyok Chol when Kim Yong Chol, the more senior official, would be seen as more responsible for the failure in Hanoi.

The Choson Ilbo did not say where it received the information citing only a single anonymous source.

"To pretend to serve the suryong while dreaming different dreams when turning around is to commit anti-party and anti-revolutionary actions that abandon the moral loyalty for the suryong", the newspaper said, referring to a revered title reserved for North Korean leaders.

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