North Korea has moved to dispel stories of a vanishing top official, claiming the former top nuclear envoy Kim Yong-chol was enjoying an arts performance on the weekend.
State media KCNA claims Mr Kim accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to a Sunday art performance, 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 Jong-un’s right-hand man and counterpart to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the failed Hanoi summit, had been sent to a labour and re-education camp, citing an unidentified North Korea source.
Asked about the last US contact with Kim Yong-chol and North Korea in general on Sunday, Mr Pompeo declined to answer, saying: “We conduct our negotiations in private.”
Kim Yong-chol was among “leading officials” who accompanied Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju during an amateur art performance by the wives of officers in the North Korean Army, according to KCNA on Monday.
He was the 10th 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 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 Reuters was unable to independently confirm, 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. Seasoned diplomats who appeared to have been sidelined, were seen returning to the spotlight.