Purged N Korean diplomat appears with Kim

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-48493702

North Korean leadership watching a concertImage copyright
Reuters/KCNA

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North Korea watchers have identified Kim Yong-chol as sitting to the right of Kim Jong-un (circle added by the BBC)

A North Korean official who was reported to be in a labour camp attended a weekend concert alongside Kim Jong-un, state media said.

Last Friday, Kim Yong-chol was widely reported to have been sent to a re-education camp as punishment.

North Korean media showed him apparently at a musical performance with other officials.

A list of attendees identified him as present, though in footage his face is partly obscured by his hands.

Kim Yong-chol, a former spymaster, has been described as the North Korean leader’s right-hand man.

He travelled to the US in January to prepare for the second summit meeting between Mr Kim and President Trump, which was held in Vietnam.

Kim Yong-chol’s reported attendance at Sunday’s concert does not guarantee that he was never sent to a labour camp.

Image copyright
White House

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US President Donald Trump with Kim Yong-chol in the White House in June 2018

Reports of purges or the executions of high-ranking North Koreans who have fallen from favour are difficult to verify, and often prove inaccurate.

The reports on Friday – which began with an anonymous source quoted in a South Korean newspaper – also said that Kim Hyok-chol, a former North Korean envoy to the US, had been executed at an airport in Pyongyang.

He was another key figure in talks ahead of the US-North Korea summit held in February.

Kim Hyok-chol was not among the attendees listed for Sunday’s event, but state media have not yet reported any execution or punishment so his whereabouts remain unclear.

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South Korean media and the government in Seoul have alleged purges in the past, but in several cases the individuals have later turned up alive and still alongside Kim Jong-un.

A prominent example of a North Korean falsely presumed executed is singer Hyon Song-wol, who in 2013 was alleged to have been shot in a “hail of machine gun fire while members of her orchestra looked on”.

In 2018 though, the singer appeared in Seoul leading a visiting North Korean delegation ahead of the Winter Olympics.