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Friday, February 16, 2024

North Korea’s “Executed” former spymaster resurfaces for an art performance

South Korean media’s reports of Kim Yong Chol’s execution after the disastrous Kim-Trump talks have fallen flat as the former North Korean spymaster resurfaced to attend an art show alongside his leader, Kim Jong Un.


A senior North Korean official reportedly purged after talks collapsed between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump appeared at an arts performance with the country’s top brass, official media reported Monday.

Kim Yong Chol, the North’s counterpart to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in nuclear talks, was sent to a labour camp following the collapse of the Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi in February, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper had reported Friday.

But late Sunday Kim Yong Chol was among the country’s top leaders – including Kim Jong Un, his wife Ri Sol Ju, senior members of the ruling party and top military officers at a “performance given by amateur art groups of the wives” of military officers, North Korea’s official news wire KCNA said.

Steve Herman, the Voice of America bureau chief at the White House, stated that the KCNA report “effectively refutes” all reports of Kim Yong Chol’s execution.

A picture carried by the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed the official sitting five seats down from Kim Jong Un, with both his hands covering his face.

Adam Cathcart, a lecturer at the Leeds University, shared images of Kim Yong Chol watching the art performance “with some tears”.

South Korean Claims Fall Flat?

South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee in April said Kim Yong Chol had been censured over his handling of the Hanoi summit, despite the fact he had recently been named a member of the State Affairs Commission, a supreme governing body chaired by Kim Jong Un. But Kim Yong Chol’s name was included among those named by KCNA as attending the Sunday event.

Read more: North Korea Executes its Special US Envoy as Trump-Kim Talks Collapse

Absent from the list, however, was Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea’s special envoy to the United States who according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper was executed by firing squad for “betraying the supreme leader” after he was “won over to the US” during pre-summit negotiations.

Kim Hyok Chol was the North’s counterpart of US special representative Stephen Biegun in the run-up to the Hanoi summit. Some previous South Korean reports of North Korean purges and executions have later proved inaccurate.

Steve Herman, the Voice of America bureau chief at the White House, stated that the KCNA report “effectively refutes” all reports of Kim Yong Chol’s execution.

Herman tweeted, “This KCNA dispatch effectively refutes the @Chosun report that high-ranking #DPRK official Kim Yong Chol had been sentenced to hard labor as punishment for the failure of the Hanoi @POTUS-Kim summit.”

Robbie Gramer, National Security reporter at Foreign Policy, shared his observation, tweeting that unravelling this intriguing North Korean mystery is a “tricky business”.

Read more: Washington blames North Korea for violating UNSC resolutions after missile tests

Gramer shared, “Accurately tracking palace intrigue in North Korea is a tricky business. All the experts and former intelligence officials I spoke to last week urged caution on the initial reports of Kim Jong Un executing some diplomats and sending Kim Yong Chol to a labor camp.”

The Korea Society, a non-profit media platform, tweeted that Kim Yong Chol’s presence at the art performance, alongside his leader Kim Jong Un, is “signaling that the former spymaster is alive and remains a force in North Korea’s power structure.”

AFP with additional input by GVS news desk.