Kim Jong Un's former right-hand man appears in public after reported purge

Yui Kusagawa, June 4, 2019, 9:28 a.m.


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's former right-hand man Kim Yong-chol reappeared in public on Monday after reports that he was purged over the failed summit with the U.S. in February.

His status certainly seems diminished. State media listed him 10th of 12 officials who accompanied Kim Jong-un to a performance for military families he sat five down from the leader.

Before Kim Yong-chol vanished amid reports that he had been sent to a reeducation camp, he was listed ahead of other key officials, a security official here said, adding, "This time he was listed at the end, which implies how his status has dropped since the Hanoi summit."

It is uncertain whether Kim Yong-chol keeps his post as vice chairman of the party's Central Committee.

On May 24, the National Intelligence Service said Kim Yong-chol had been dismissed as chief of the United Front Department. The regime is thought to have carried out a sweeping purge of the negotiation team for the summit.

Pundits can only speculate, but his reappearance could be a message to Washington that negotiations are still possible, or it could mean that a brief term of punishment for the summit's collapse has run its intended course.

"Reeducation is for moral rearmament. It's a kind of punishment with the possibility of reinstatement," said a North Korean defector who used to be a senior official in the North. "Kim Yong-chol may have been reinstated because he performed his self-criticism well."

Choe Ryong-hae, another erstwhile right-hand man of the leader's, was sent to a reeducation camp in November 2015 but reinstated three months later and now holds a ceremonial post.

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