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4 Jun, 2019 22:53

Fake news? ‘Executed’ North Korean seems to resurface alive, another shows up at concert

Fake news? ‘Executed’ North Korean seems to resurface alive, another shows up at concert

A report that several North Korean officials were executed over February's failed summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump had spread like wildfire in Western media – but at least one seems to have turned up alive.

South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported last week that nuclear envoy Kim Hyok-chol had been executed and former spy chief Kim Yong-chol sent to a labor camp, because Trump had walked out of peace talks in Hanoi and rejected North Korean requests for limited sanctions relief.

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The report spread far and wide, shared as proof that Trump’s diplomacy with Kim had failed. With Pyongyang tight-lipped as usual, the fate of the officials remained shrouded in mystery and the subject of breathless speculation.

On Tuesday, however, CNN reported that Kim Hyok-chol is in fact alive. Reporter Will Ripley cited anonymous sources to say that the official remains in custody and under investigation for his role in the failed summit, and could still face “heavy punishment.”

Another negotiator, Kim Song-hye, and translator Sin Hye-yong are also in custody, Ripley’s sources said.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Monday that Kim Yong-chol had attended a concert the day before, with a photo of the official appearing to be seated in the same row as Kim Jong-un. Ripley’s source, meanwhile, said the former spy chief was being “kept silently in his office writing statements of self-criticism.”

With conflicting information coming from multiple anonymous sources, it is impossible to verify any of these claims, and CNN’s reporting may turn out to be as fake as Chosun Ilbo’s.

Both South Korean and Western media outlets have claimed for years that Kim has been executing former officials, dissidents and even family members in a variety of ways, including the use of an anti-aircraft cannon – the North’s reclusive nature meaning any grotesque speculation becomes conveniently-unverifiable headline fodder.

Meanwhile, officials believed dead have been known to surface years later. Kim Yong-ju, the current supreme leader’s great-uncle, abruptly disappeared in the mid-1970s and was rumored to have been executed, until he resurfaced in 1993 and was handed a ceremonial role in the parliament in 1998.

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