New York, June 3 (IANS) Kim Yong-chol, a former North Korean spymaster and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeos counterpart in recent diplomatic contacts between Pyongyang and Washington, resurfaced in public, undermining a South Korean newspapers report that he was banished to forced labour in a re-education camp.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Monday included Kim Yong-chol’s name on a list of officials who accompanied the country’s Kim Jong-un to an art performance given by the wives of military officers on Sunday, reports The New York Times.
But on a roster of officials attending the event, Kim Yong-chol’s name was listed 10th among 12 officials named.
In North Korea, an official’s status is commonly gauged by his name’s ranking in leadership rosters carried by state-run media.
In another telltale sign of his declining influence, Kim Yong-chol was not seen next to Kim Jong-un, as he often used to be, in photos carried by the North Korean news agency on Monday.
On May 31, the conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest daily newspaper, reported that Kim Yong-chol had been sent to a re-education camp as part of a political purge of senior North Korean officials held responsible for the breakdown of the second summit meeting held in February between the Kim Jong-un, and US President Donald Trump.
The Hanoi meeting was widely seen as a huge embarrassment for Kim Jong-un, who is seen as infallible in his totalitarian state, The New York Times said.
During the summit meeting, Kim Jong-un demanded that Trump lift the most painful international sanctions against his country in return for partially dismantling his country’s nuclear weapons facilities.
The meeting collapsed when Trump insisted on a quick and comprehensive rollback of the North’s entire weapons of mass destruction program before lifting sanctions, leaving Kim to return home empty-handed.
Key members of Kim Yong-chol’s team, including the North’s special envoy to US, Kim Hyok-chol, and Kim Song-hye, both of whom accompanied Kim Yong-chol when he visited Trump in the Oval Office in January, have since disappeared from the North’s state-run news media.
They led working-level negotiations with US officials ahead of the Hanoi summit.
The Chosun Ilbo had reported that Kim Hyok-chol was executed by firing squad in March. But South Korean officials could not confirm the report.
Meanwhile, Lee Sang-min, a spokesman for the South’s Unification Ministry, said on Monday that his Ministry had no comment on Kim Yong-chol’s reappearance in North Korean media.
But he confirmed that the report on Monday marked the first time North Korean state media had mentioned Kim Yong-chol’s name in 50 days.