Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, reported Friday that North Korea had executed a top negotiator involved in Kim Jong Un’s failed summit with President Trump in February, and punished a key aide.
Chosun Ilbo cited an unnamed, unspecified source as saying nuclear envoy Kim Hyok Chol was executed by firing squad in March for acting as a U.S. spy.
“Kim Jong Un is believed to have ordered the purge,” the newspaper reported, saying that the moves were intended “to contain internal unrest and mounting public dissatisfaction” after the North Korean leader failed to secure relief from economic sanctions during his second tête-à-tête with Trump in Vietnam.
Government and intelligence officials in South Korea said that they could not confirm the report. A representative of President Moon Jae-in cautioned local journalists not to jump to “rash judgments,” according to media reports. Friday’s report came from Kim Myong-song, a North Korean defector-turned-journalist who reports on South Korea’s unification ministry.
The report also said former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, who hand-delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump, was sent to a labor camp near the Chinese border on similar charges, and another official who had also participated in working-level negotiations in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit alongside Kim Hyok Chol and the interpreter who translated for Kim Jong Un had been sent to political prison camps. (Kim Hyok Chol, the negotiator, was a former ambassador to Spain who only emerged as North Korea’s envoy in nuclear talks with the U.S. earlier this year.)
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said he was paying little heed to the reported purge.
[Los Angeles Times]