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Kim Yong-chol: ‘Purged’ N Korean diplomat appears with Kim

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Kim Yong Chol and Mike Pompeo

But an invitation to join Kim Jong Un in public would likely not be extended to someone who had fallen out of favor.

Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea's Sejong Institute, said it would be illogical for the North Korean leader to punish his negotiators.

In the Supreme People's Assembly in mid-April, he was also appointed as a member of the State Affairs Commission, the communist state's most powerful administrative apparatus, of which Kim Jong-un was re-elected as chairman.

Today, the North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried a picture showing Kim Yong Chol sitting five seats down from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with both his hands covering his face, at a "performance given by amateur art groups of the wives" of military officers.

A senior aide to Kim Jong-un who was last week reported to have been sent to a labour camp as part of a widespread purge has been pictured attending a musical performance alongside the North Korean dictator.

The newspaper also reported that Kim Hyok Chol, the counterpart of US envoy Stephen Biegun in pre-summit negotiations, had been executed, although many diplomats and experts expressed caution or outright skepticism about that claim.

The Chosun Ilbo also reported that senior envoy Kim Hyok Chol, who was involved in pre-summit discussions with USA officials, was executed by firing squad along with four other officials from the North's Foreign Ministry for treason.

"President Trump has said Kim Jong-Un can do whatever he wants as long as he doesn't break his promise to test intermediate range missiles or nuclear missiles", Vinograd said.

In April, an official photograph from a session of North Korea's rubber-stamp legislature showed Kim Yong Chol standing behind Kim Jong Un, but he did not accompany Kim on his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin later that month.

However, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo last week cited an unidentified source who claimed that Kim Yong Chol had been purged from the ministry and sentenced to hard labor following the collapse of the second summit in February.

When asked about reports of the purge last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was "doing our best to check it out".

South Korea's government and media have a mixed record on tracking developments among North Korea's ruling elite, made hard by Pyongyang's stringent control of information about them.

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

"It's true that Kim Jong Un turns to purges and fear politics to solidify his absolute power", he said.

In 2018 though, the singer appeared in Seoul leading a visiting North Korean delegation ahead of the Winter Olympics.

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