Sometimes disgraced North Korean officials luck out and draw only short stays in the labor camps where they’re supposed to repent for their alleged mistakes. Sometimes the ruler has mercy and brings a camp inmate back to Pyongyang, deciding that he or she has paid a sufficient penalty.
Of course, it helps if such an official is still alive and able to return. Assuming the original story about Kim Yong Chol was correct and he really was purged, it seems he’s one of the lucky ones: He’s alive and his stay in purgatory was short.
The senior North Korean official reportedly had been purged after talks collapsed between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump. Then he appeared at an arts performance with the country’s top brass, official media reported Monday.
Kim Yong Chol, the North’s counterpart to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in nuclear talks, was sent to a labor camp following the collapse of the Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi in February, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper had reported Friday.
But late Sunday Kim Yong Chol was among the country’s top leaders – including Kim Jong Un, his wife Ri Sol Ju, senior members of the ruling party and top military officers – at a “performance given by amateur art groups of the wives” of military officers, North Korea’s official news wire KCNA said.
A picture carried by the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed the official sitting five seats down from Kim Jong Un, with both his hands covering his face.
South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee in April said Kim Yong Chol had been censured over his handling of the Hanoi summit, despite the fact he had recently been named a member of the State Affairs Commission, a supreme governing body chaired by Kim Jong Un.
But Kim Yong Chol’s name was included among those named by KCNA as attending the Sunday event.
Absent from the list, however, was Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea’s special envoy to the United States who – according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper – was executed by firing squad for “betraying the supreme leader” after he was “won over to the US” during pre-summit negotiations.
Kim Hyok Chol was the North’s counterpart of US special representative Stephen Biegun in the run-up to the Hanoi summit.
– With additional reporting by AFP –