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(3rd LD) Top aide to N.K. leader appears in public despite rumors of purge

All News 10:11 June 03, 2019

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, photo, ADDS details, byline)
By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- A top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watched an art troupe's performance together with the leader, Pyongyang's state media reported Monday, belying rumors that he was purged for the leader's embarrassing no-deal summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim Yong-chol, who served as Pyongyang's chief interlocutor and counterpart of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, attended Sunday's performance by amateur art groups made up of the wives of military officers, together with leader Kim and other top officials, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The report came after rumors of a purge spiked following a news report that leader Kim had carried out a massive punishment of officials responsible for the no-deal summit and that Kim Yong-chol was given hard labor and another negotiator was executed.

The Hanoi summit failed to produce a deal as the leaders could not find common ground over how to match Pyongyang's denuclearization steps with Washington's sanctions relief.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (6th from R, 2nd row) watches a performance given by amateur art groups made up of the wives of officers of the Korean People's Army in Pyongyang on June 2, 2019, in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on June 3. Kim Yong-chol (in white circle), a close aide to the North Korean leader who has led the country's diplomatic efforts with the United States and South Korea, also watched the performance. He had been reported to have been banished and punished with hard labor. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Last week, the Chosun Ilbo, a major daily in Seoul, reported that North Korea had executed Kim Hyok-chol, its special envoy for the U.S., and some foreign ministry officials, citing anonymous sources. It added that Kim Yong-chol is going through hard labor in a remote province.

South Korea's presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, earlier said it's premature to conclude that such a purge is actually under way in North Korea.

"There's nothing we can confirm (for you)," Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung told reporters Friday. "We are monitoring all related situations (on North Korea). But I think it's important to figure out how much information in the article has been confirmed."

In April, Seoul's spy agency said that Kim Yong-chol had been replaced by Jang Kum-chol, an official little known to the outside, as the director of the United Front Department. The North has yet to confirm the replacement.

Kim's possible replacement was seen as intended to hold him accountable for the ill-fated February summit.

Despite the replacement, observers say that Kim Yong-chol is expected to maintain his post as a vice chairman of the central committee of the North's ruling party.

In the Supreme People's Assembly in mid-April, he was also appointed as a member of the State Affairs Commission, the communist state's most powerful administrative apparatus, of which Kim Jong-un was re-elected as chairman.

Monday's KCNA report referred to him as "comrade," while not using any job title mentioning his name.



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