North Korea: Kim Jong-un Enjoys Art Show with Official Allegedly Sent to Labor Camp

People watch a TV screen showing an image of senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol in a musical performance by the wives of Korean People's Army officers in North Korea during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, June 3, 2019. A senior …
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

North Korean state media reported Monday that former senior diplomat Kim Yong-chol had resurfaced at an art event in Pyongyang Sunday, several days after South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo claimed that dictator Kim Jong-un had sentenced him to time in a labor camp over his failed summit with President Donald Trump.

73-year-old Kim Yong-chol was among the most powerful Workers’ Party (WPK) officials in Korea when he participated in the scheduling of a second summit between Kim Jong-un and Trump in Vietnam this year. Reports in April suggested that he had lost his official titles following that summit in February, however, after Trump abruptly walked out, citing the North Koreans’ refusal to negotiate. He had not been seen in public since.

North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the state-run newswire service, reported on Monday that Kim Jong-un attended a “performance given by amateur art groups of the wives of officers of units of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) selected in the seventh round of the second-term contest of art groups of KPA officers’ wives.” Listed among those who attended the event with him were several senior members of the WPK. Kim Yong-chol’s name appeared in the report among a list of “leading officials of the WPK Central Committee,” but not with any official title.
Most of the article praises the performance using classic North Korean propaganda language, acclaiming it for having “impressively represented the ideological and mental features of KPA officers’ wives, who make every moment of their life honorable with ardent yearning for the leader and boundless loyalty.”

“The performance was highly acclaimed by the audience for successfully showing that the defence line of the country is impregnable as long as there are a large unit of women revolutionaries who bear in mind the great trust and expectation of the Party Central Committee and add dynamism to the revolution with love and devotion,” the report concluded.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency published photos it acquired of the alleged performance. Kim Yong-chol appeared on the far left flank of Kim Jong-un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju.

The event was one of two public appearances by Kim Jong-un this weekend, who had laid low for several weeks following his visit to Russia in April. Yonhap reports that he also stopped at a machinery factory on Saturday to urge the nation’s heads of manufacturing to reach a “higher level to meet the requirements of the Party policy to build a Juche-based and self-supporting plant.”

Kim Yong-chol’s public appearance was most surprising, however, following a report by South Korea’s conservative Chosun Ilbo publication that he had been forced into hard labor. Chosun alleged that Kim Jong-un had ordered the execution of another senior diplomat in charge of arranging the doomed Trump meeting, Kim Hyok-chol, and sentenced Kim Yong-chol and two others, diplomat Kim Song-hye and translator Shin Hye-yong, to hard labor. The newspaper made the case that the purge was so large that it had largely left Kim Jong-un without a diplomatic team. Both the South Korean and Japanese governments have reportedly failed to get responses from North Korea following requests to talk.

South Korean officials said following the report that it was “premature” to accept its conclusions and refused to confirm or deny it. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also refused to comment on the report, stating, “we conduct our negotiations in private.”

The execution, according to Chosun, was for allegedly spying for American interests. The others, however, were being punished for their role in organizing the Vietnam summit in February. Prior to that summit, North Korean media predicted major diplomatic breakthroughs that would lead to the end of the international sanctions on the country. When Trump walked out of the talks halfway through, however, he said that the North Koreans had refused to denuclearize or make any material moves to cease being a threat to its neighbors.

“Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that,” Trump said.

Subsequent reports indicated that, in addition to lifting sanctions, Kim had demanded that Trump send “famous basketball players” to North Korea to cut a deal.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho claimed that Trump was lying, telling reporters North Korea had made a “realistic proposal” and that the American delegation had no interest in a real deal. Kim Jong-un himself accused Trump of entering the talks in “bad faith” during discussions with President Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Chosun Ilbo stuck to their reporting Monday, publishing a new report suggesting that Kim is “trying to bring about a generational change in the regime,” making public appearances alongside much younger WPK officials. During the visit to the factory on Saturday, Chosun claimed Kim “was flanked mostly by younger, lower-ranking officials than his usual entourage for these on-the-spot guidance trips.” This combined with reports of a purge of senior officials, the newspaper alleges, may be signs of a changing of the guard in the Party.

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