North Korea’s special envoy to the US, who was credited with paving the way for nuclear talks with Washington, has reportedly been executed over the failure of the recent summit between North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and Donald Trump.
The South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper said that Kim Hyok-chol and foreign ministry officials who conducted working-level preparations for February’s doomed Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, were executed in March.
The newspaper’s claims, based on unnamed North Korean sources, have not been independently verified. North Korea has not confirmed or denied the executions, and other actions taken against officials, and the regime has challenged previous media claims about executions. The South Korean government was unable to confirm the report.
The paper said Kim Yong-chol, a senior official who had been US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s counterpart in the run-up to the summit, had been subjected to forced labour and “ideological education”.
The Chosun Ilbo said that Kim had launched another purge of senior officials in an attempt to divert attention from internal turmoil and discontent.
“Kim Hyok-chol was investigated and executed at Mirim airport with four foreign ministry officials in March,” an unnamed North Korea source said, according to the newspaper, adding that they were charged with spying for the US.Kim Hyok-chol had been the counterpart to Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea, before the summit.
Kim Yong-chol was forced to work in Jagang province after his dismissal, the newspaper’s source said, adding that Kim Song-hye, who carried out working-level negotiations with Kim Hyok-chol, was sent to a political prison camp.
Shin Hye-yong, who interpreted for Kim at the Hanoi summit, was reportedly detained at a political prison camp for undermining Kim’s authority by making a critical interpreting mistake, the newspaper said.
Kim Yo-jong, the regime leader’s sister who has been at her brother’s side throughout both nuclear summits, is also said to be “lying low” on her brother’s orders, the paper reported, citing an unnamed South Korean government official, who said: “We are not aware of Kim Yo-jong’s track record since the Hanoi meeting.”
Although it made no mention of the purges reported by the Chosun Ilbo, the North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary on Thursday: “Acting like one is revering the leader in front [of others] but dreaming of something else when one turns around, is an anti-party, anti-revolutionary act that has thrown away the moral fidelity toward the leader, and such people will not avoid the stern judgment of the revolution.”
“There are traitors and turncoats who only memorise words of loyalty toward the leader and even change according to the trend of the time.”
It is the first time since the December 2013 execution of Jang Song-thaek, Kim’s uncle and mentor, that expressions such as “anti-party, anti-revolutionary” and “stern judgment” have appeared in Rodong Sinmun, according to Chosun Ilbo.
Kim has presided over several high-profile purges since he became leader in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.
He has also punished those whose behaviour he considers disrespectful. In 2016, he ordered the execution of Ri Yong-jin, a senior official in the education ministry, for falling asleep at a meeting chaired by the North Korean leader.
A year earlier, Hyon Yong-chol, a former North Korean defence chief, was reportedly executed with an anti-aircraft gun, for disrespectful behaviour that included napping during a military rally attended by Kim.