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'Purged' N. Korean Leader Reappears in State Media

Kim Yong Chol, left, sits next to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their summit at the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea, May 26, 2018.

Senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol has resurfaced in North Korean state media, raising further doubt about a report he was purged over a failed nuclear summit with the United States.

South Korea’s Choson Ilbo reported Friday that Kim, who helped lead recent talks with Washington, had been sent to a labor and reeducation camp as part of a wide-ranging and brutal leadership shakeup.

But on Monday the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) listed the former spymaster among a group of officials who attended a musical performance with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

It is still possible Kim Yong Chol has been sidelined or demoted. In the KCNA article, he was mentioned tenth out of 12 officials who attended the musical performance with Kim Jong Un. Such lists often signify rank.

KCNA did not mention the status of the other North Korean officials reported to be purged.

In its Friday report, the Choson Ilbo said Kim Hyok Chol, the senior North Korean envoy to the United States, had been executed by firing squad in March along with four other senior officials “on charges of spying for America.” It also said Kim Jong Un’s translator had likely been sent to a prison camp for an interpreting error.

The Choson Ilbo did not say where it received the information citing only a single anonymous source. The paper has a mixed record of reporting on North Korean leadership purges.

To some Korea watchers the story was at least plausible, as North Korea has a long history of such purges and Kim had been left vulnerable following the failure of his Vietnam summit with Trump.

The February summit in Hanoi broke down after the two leaders could not agree on how to match the pact of sanctions relief with steps to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program.

Since the summit, talks have all but broken down. Trump insists he will not relax sanctions until Kim agrees to give up all his nuclear weapons. Kim has given the U.S. until the end of the year to change its approach. He has also resumed ballistic missiles tests.