Top North Korean official reappears days after purge report

A senior North Korean official who had been reported as purged over the failed nuclear summit with Washington has been shown in state media enjoying a concert near leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korean publications on Monday showed Kim Yong Chol sitting five seats away from a clapping Kim Jong Un in the same row along with other top officials during a musical performance by the wives of Korean People's Army officers.

Kim Yong Chol has been North Korea's top nuclear negotiator and the counterpart of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo since Kim Jong Un entered nuclear talks with the US early last year.

He travelled to Washington and met US president Donald Trump twice before Mr Kim's two summits with Mr Trump.

South Korea North Korea Possible Purge
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, third from left, and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol, right, at the musical performance in North Korea (Ahn Young-joon/PA)

Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been at a standstill since February, when the second summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim broke down over what the United States described as excessive North Korean demands for sanctions relief in exchange for only a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo last week cited an unidentified source to report that Kim Yong Chol had been sentenced to hard labour and ideological re-education over the failed summit in Hanoi.

The newspaper also reported that senior envoy Kim Hyok Chol, who was involved in pre-summit working-level talks with American officials, was executed with four other officials from the North's Foreign Ministry for betraying Kim Jong Un after being won over by the United States.

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

Lee Sang-min, spokesman of Seoul's Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said the ministry would not comment on a "specific internal event in North Korea or its participants" when asked about Kim Yong Chol's reappearance in public.

Seoul's spy service has said it could not confirm Friday's report of a possible purge, while the presidential Blue House cautioned against "hasty judgments or comments".

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Berlin that he had seen the report and the US was "doing our best to check it out".

The report came at a delicate time for diplomacy as North Korea in past weeks has tested short-range missiles and issued belligerent rhetoric toward American and South Korean officials.

Mr Kim Jong Un declared in April that the Trump administration has until the end of the year to come up with mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage the negotiations.