Tuesday 22 October 2019

Kim Jong-un 'ordered the execution of US nuclear envoy' in purge of officials after failure of Hanoi summit

Spy charge: Kim Hyok Chol during the summit negotiations in February. Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo
Spy charge: Kim Hyok Chol during the summit negotiations in February. Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

North Korea's nuclear envoy to the US has been executed as part of a purge of officials who organised the failed summit with Donald Trump, it was claimed yesterday.

Kim Hyok Chol was executed in March at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang, according to the South Korean newspaper 'Chosun Ilbo'.

Four foreign ministry officials who were also charged with spying for the US were executed with him, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the situation.

"He [Kim Hyok Chol] was accused of spying for the United States for poorly reporting on the negotiations without properly grasping US intentions," the source was quoted as saying.

The February summit in Vietnam's capital Hanoi, the second between Kim Jong-un and Mr Trump, failed to reach a deal because of conflicts over US calls for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.

Reuters was unable to confirm the report of the execution. Previously, North Korean officials have been reported executed or purged only to reappear with a new title.

A diplomatic source said there were signs Kim Hyok Chol and other officials were punished, but there was no evidence they were executed and they may have been sent to a labour camp.

South Korea's Unification Ministry declined to comment and an official at the presidential Blue House in Seoul said it was inappropriate to comment on an unverified report.

The US is attempting to check on the reports of the execution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday.

Hong Min, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said it was possible Kim Hyok Chol and other officials faced some penalty but verification was needed.

"Executing or completely removing people like him would send a very bad signal to the US because he was the public face of the talks and it could indicate they are negating all they have discussed," Mr Hong said.

When asked on May 5 about reports of a "shake-up" of Kim Jong-un's team, Mr Pompeo said it appeared his future opposite number would be somebody else "but we don't know that for sure".

The 'Chosun Ibo' reported other officials punished, but not executed, included Kim Yong Chol, the leader's right-hand man and counterpart to Mr Pompeo.

He is reported to have been sent to a labour camp.

Other penalised members of the team included Kim Song Hye, who led the preparations, and Sin Hye Yong, a newly elevated interpreter. They were said to have been detained in a camp.

The diplomatic source said Kim Song Hye's punishment seemed inevitable because she was a "prime author" of the plan to secure sanctions relief in return for dismantling the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Kim Song Hye has worked closely with Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader's sister.

Kim Yo Jong has also been lying low, the 'Chosun Ibo' reported.

Interpreter Sin Hye Yong was charged with making critical mistakes that included missing a "last minute offer" the North Korean leader supposedly made as Mr Trump was about to walk out, it was claimed.

Official mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun warned that "two-faced" officials would face the "stern judgment of the revolution".

"It is an anti-Party, anti-revolutionary act to pretend to be revering the leader in front of him when you actually dream of something else," it said in a commentary.

Irish Independent

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