North Korea executes envoy in a purge after failed US summit - media

North Korea executed its nuclear envoy to the United States as part of a purge of officials who steered negotiations for a failed summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, a South Korean newspaper said on Friday.

Kim Hyok Chol was executed in March at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang, along with four foreign ministry executives after they were all charged with spying for the United States, the Chosun Ilbo reported, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the situation.

"He was accused of spying for the United States for poorly reporting on the negotiations without properly grasping US intentions," the source was quoted as saying.

The February summit in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, the second between Kim and Trump, failed to reach a deal because of conflicts over US calls for complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the report. Previously, some North Korean officials have reportedly been executed or purged only to reappear with a new title.

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US President Donald Trump attends a press conference following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. - The nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended without an agreement on February 28, the White House said after the two leaders cut short their discussions. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. - The nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended without an agreement on February 28, the White House said after the two leaders cut short their discussions. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 28: Local newspaper front pages show the news about the summit between U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met on Wednesday and Thursday during their second summit as discussions continue in Hanoi on the possible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says he wouldn't be holding a second summit with President Donald Trump if he weren't willing to make good on his denuclearization pledge. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference following the DPRK-USA Hanoi Summit in Hanoi, on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Trumps second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed without an agreement between the two leaders, plunging future talks on North Korea's nuclear program into question. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Two Vietnamese policewomen rest near the Melia hotel following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. - The nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended without an agreement on February 28, the White House said after the two leaders cut short their discussions. (Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 28: Media members work at the International Media Center during the DPRK-USA Hanoi Summit on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi for their second summit on Thursday. (Photo by Fu Tian/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) speaks during a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump (not pictured) at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un listens during a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump (not pictured) at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk past a screen in Tokyo on February 28, 2019 showing US President Donald Trump speaking during a press conference following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 28: The car carrying U.S President Donald Trump is seen leaving the summit on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met on Wednesday and Thursday during their second summit as discussions continue in Hanoi. According to White House after the summit: 'No agreement was reached' between Trump and Kim at Vietnam summit, meetings to continue in the future. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
A motorcyclist rides past a Vietnamese soldier standing between armoured personel carriers during the second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks during a dinner with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
A motorcade, transporting US President Donald Trump, leaves the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Nhac NGUYEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read NHAC NGUYEN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc wave flags before a meeting at the Office of Government Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
South Korean protesters hold a banner showing a photo of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally near the U.S. embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. The second summit between U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place in Hanoi on Feb. 27 and 28. The letters read "Peace Agreement between U.S. and North Korea" and "Withdrawal of U.S. troops." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
President Donald Trump and Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong watch as VietJet President Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, right, and Kevin McAllister, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, left, sign a business agreement at the Presidential Palace, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
A Grab motorcycle deliveryman checks his phone in front of shops selling paintings and t-shirts of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Trump hoped for "great things" from his second meeting with Kim as he paid a courtesy call on his Vietnamese hosts ahead of the summit in the Vietnamese capital. (AP Photo/Adam Schreck)
President Donald Trump stand as he meets Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
A motorcyclist rides past a Vietnamese soldier standing next to an armoured vehicle during the second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump poses for a photo as he meets Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
A man walks past a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and U.S. President Donald Trump in a news program in Tokyo, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Kim is expected to meet with Trump for a second summit over the next two days in Hanoi, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
A police officer secures boundary tape on a pole near the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Hanoi late Tuesday for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump plans to meet Vietnam's leaders and sign commercial deals today before meeting Kim in the evening. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (L) waves to his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Phu Trong (not pictured) after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on February 27, 2019, ahead of the second US-North Korea summit. (Photo by LUONG THAI LINH / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUONG THAI LINH/AFP/Getty Images)
A vendor (C) waits for customers while displaying T-shirts with pictures of US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi on February 27, 2019, ahead of the second US-North Korea summit. (Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 27: U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade runs en route to the Presidential Palace of Vietnam ahead of the DPRK-USA summit on February 27, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are scheduled to meet on February 27-28 in Hanoi for their second summit. (Photo by Fu Tian/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 26: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'Handout / White House / Shealah Craighead' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam on February 26, 2019. (Photo by Handout / White House / Shealah Craighead/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 26: U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One after arriving at Noi Bai International Airport on February 26, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S President Donald Trump arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday as preparations continue in Hanoi for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi later this week. Both leaders are scheduled to have a private dinner and meeting on Wednesday as reports indicate they are expected to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and end international sanctions against Pyongyang. (Photo by Tuan Mark/Getty Images)
HANOI, Feb. 26, 2019 -- U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One in Hanoi, Vietnam, Feb. 26, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Vietnam's capital Hanoi on Tuesday night to meet with Kim Jong Un, top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. (Xinhua/Wang Shen) (Xinhua/ via Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 26: U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One after arriving at Noi Bai International Airport on February 26, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S President Donald Trump arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday as preparations continue in Hanoi for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi later this week. Both leaders are scheduled to have a private dinner and meeting on Wednesday as reports indicate they are expected to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and end international sanctions against Pyongyang. (Photo by Tuan Mark/Getty Images)
The train which transported North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un to Vietnam leaves Dong Dang railway station, Vietnam, at the border with China, February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A train believed to be carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un leaves from a train station in the Chinese border city of Dandong, China in this photo taken by Kyodo on February 23, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) speaks during a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump (not pictured) at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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US State Department officials said they had no information to confirm the report.

A spokeswoman at South Korea's Unification Ministry declined to comment. An official at the presidential Blue House in Seoul said it was inappropriate to comment on an issue that should first be verified.

A diplomatic source told Reuters there were signs Kim Hyok Chol and other officials were punished for the breakdown of the summit, such as by being sent to a labour camp for reeducation, but there was no evidence they were executed.

Kim Yong Chol, Kim Jong Un's right-hand man and the counterpart of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the Hanoi summit, had also been sent to a labour and reeducation camp in Jagang Province near the Chinese border, the Chosun Ilbo reported.

Key officials who worked with Kim Yong Chol have been out of the public eye since the summit, while seasoned diplomats who previously 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, a hawkish former spymaster, had been removed from a key party post.

RISE AND FALL

Kim Hyok Chol was seen as a rising star when he was appointed to spearhead working-level talks with U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun weeks before the Hanoi summit.

However, little was known about his expertise or the role he undertook during those talks. The other four executed alongside him included diplomats working on Vietnam relations, the Chosun report said.

"This is a man who might provide some tactical advice to the leader but is otherwise a message bearer with little negotiating or policymaking latitude," said Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Centre.

"Instead, they put in someone like Kim Hyok Chol to insulate Choe Son Hui and more substantive diplomatic personnel, to a certain degree he is expendable and his superiors are not."

Among the penalised officials were Kim Song Hye, who led preparations as part of Kim Yong Chol's team, and Sin Hye Yong, a newly elevated interpreter for the Hanoi summit. They were said to have been detained in a camp for political prisoners, the newspaper said.

The diplomatic source said Kim Song Hye's punishment seemed inevitable because she was a "prime author" of the North's plan to secure sanctions relief in return for dismantling the Yongbyon main nuclear complex.

The idea was rejected by the United States demanding a comprehensive roadmap for denuclearisation.

Kim Song Hye had also worked closely with Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader's younger sister and a senior party official whom Kim Song Hye accompanied to South Korea for the Winter Olympics last year.

Kim Yo Jong was also lying low, the paper reported, citing an unidentified South Korean government official.

Madden, however, said Kim Yo Jong's status remained unchanged as Kim Jong Un's top aide, citing her attendance at key party meetings in April and appearance in state media reports.

Sin was charged with making critical interpretation mistakes that included missing an unspecified "last-minute offer" the North Korean leader supposedly made as Trump was about to walk out, Chosun reported.

'TWO-FACED'

North Korea's official party mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun warned on Thursday that "two-faced" officials would face the "stern judgement of the revolution".

"It is an anti-Party, anti-revolutionary act to pretend to be revering the leader in front of him when you actually dream of something else," it said in a commentary.

"There are traitors and turncoats who only memorise words of loyalty towards the Leader and even change according to the trend of the time," it said.

The newspaper accused Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Un's uncle, of committing "anti-party, anti-revolutionary acts" after he was executed in December 2013.

Hong Min, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said it was possible Kim Hyok Chol and other officials faced some penalty but further verification was needed.

"Executing or completely removing people like him would send a very bad signal to the United States because he was the public face of the talks and it could indicate they are negating all they have discussed," Hong said.

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