Amid execution reports, North Korea's ex-nuclear envoy seen with Kim Jong-un

Seoul, South KoreaUpdated: Jun 03, 2019, 07:19 AM IST
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As Kim Jong-un’s point man for nuclear talks with the United States, Kim Yong Chol was apparently censured for summit collapse with Trump by being removed from a key party post

North Korean senior official and former top nuclear envoy Kim Yong Chol accompanied leader Kim Jong-un to a Sunday art performance, state media KCNA said on Monday, signalling that the former spymaster is alive and remains a force in North Korea’s power structure.

South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported on Friday that Kim Yong Chol, Kim Jong-un’s right-hand man and the counterpart to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the failed Hanoi summit, had been sent to a labour and re-education camp in Jagang Province near the Chinese border, citing an unidentified North Korea source.

Asked about the last US contact with Kim Yong Chol and North Korea in general on Sunday, Pompeo declined to answer, saying: “we conduct our negotiations in private.”

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

He was the tenth official named among 12 mentioned overall.

As Kim Jong-un’s point man for nuclear talks with the United States, Kim Yong Chol was apparently censured for the summit’s collapse by being removed from a key party post, a South Korean lawmaker had said in April.

Kim Yong Chol was pictured standing behind Kim Jong-un in an official photo released from a session of North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature in April, but did not accompany Kim on his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin later that month.

The Chosun Ilbo story, which could not be independently confirmed, also said North Korea executed its working-level nuclear envoy to the United States, Kim Hyok Chol, as part of a purge of officials who steered negotiations for the collapsed summit in February.

Officials who worked with Kim Yong Chol have been out of the public eye since the summit, while seasoned diplomats who appeared to have been sidelined, including Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, were seen returning to the spotlight.

North Korea's former top nuclear envoy was also seen with Kim Jong-un.