North Korea has executed its nuclear envoy to the United States and four other diplomats tasked with steering negotiations for a failed summit between leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.
Kim Hyok-chol was executed in March at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang, along with four foreign ministry officials after they were charged with spying for the US, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo said on Friday.
“He was accused of spying for the United States for poorly reporting on the negotiations without properly grasping US intentions,” the report said, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the situation.
The February summit in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, the second between Kim and Trump, failed to reach a deal because of conflicts over US calls for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.
Previously, some North Korean officials who were reported to have been executed or purged reappeared later with new titles.
When asked about reports of a “shakeup” of Kim’s negotiating team in a May 5 interview with ABC News, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it did appear that his future counterpart might be somebody else.
A diplomatic source told Reuters there were signs Kim Hyok-chol and other officials were punished, but there was no evidence they were executed and they may have been sent to a labor camp for re-education.
The newspaper reported that other officials had been punished, but not executed.
Kim Yong-chol, the North Korean leader’s right-hand man and the counterpart to Pompeo before the Hanoi summit, had been sent to a labor and re-education camp in Jagang Province near the Chinese border, the Chosun Ilbo report added.
Officials who worked with Kim Yong-chol have been out of the public eye since the summit, while seasoned diplomats who appeared to have been sidelined, including Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, were seen returning to the spotlight.
A South Korean lawmaker told Reuters in April that Kim Yong-chol had been removed from a key party post.