SEOUL (AFP) - A top North Korean official in charge of ties with South Korea and reunification was killed in a traffic accident, Pyongyang's state media said Wednesday (Dec 30).
"Comrade Kim Yang Gon, a Workers' Party secretary and member of the party Central Committee Politbureau... died in a traffic accident at 6.15am Tuesday (Dec 29) at age 73," the North's Korean Central News Agency said.
KCNA said leader Kim Jong Un would head an 80-member state funeral for Kim on Thursday (Dec 31).
It hailed Kim Yang Gon as a faithful revolutionary of late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and “the dearest and the most trustworthy comrade-in-arms” of current leader Kim Jong Un.
His death was a “great loss” to the party and the people, KCNA said, praising him for his “admirable loyalty and competence”.
South Korea on Wednesday (Dec 30) expressed condolences to the North on his passing, China's Xinhua news agency reported.
As secretary of the party’s Central Committee and director of the committee’s United Front Department, he had been devoted to achieving the party’s reunification policy, it said.
A career party diplomat, Kim was known as a key confidante to the leader of the Stalinist state, advising him on inter-Korean relations and more recently on international relations in general.
He played a leading role in realising the 2007 summit between then leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun.
Kim Yang Gon was the only North Korean official present at their meeting in Pyongyang.
Most recently, he was one of the two top North Korean officials who attended rare high-level talks in August aimed to defuse tensions sparked by a land mine blast near the inter-Korean border which was blamed on North Korea.
The two Koreas reached a deal on Aug 25, pulling the Korean peninsula away from the brink of war. They then vowed to make efforts to promote inter-Korean civilian exchanges.
But subsequent vice ministerial talks this month ended with little progress in resolving pending issues such as the issue of families separated by the division of the Korean peninsula and the 1950-53 Korean War and the resumption of cross-border tours to the North’s scenic Mount Kumgang.
Kim’s death is widely seen as a blow to efforts for dialogue and reconciliation between the two rivals.
“This is going to deliver negative impacts on inter-Korean relations”, professor Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korean Studies told AFP.
“In light of the North’s nature, I don’t see anyone who can replace him in his role in daring offer policy ideas and advice to the leader in these fields”, he said.