Public appearance of North Korean leader's sister Kim Yo Jong dispels punishment rumours

According to the Korean Central News Agency, Kim Yo Jong (pictured) and Kim Jong Un attended a mass gymnastics and artist performance at the May Day Stadium on Monday.
According to the Korean Central News Agency, Kim Yo Jong (pictured) and Kim Jong Un attended a mass gymnastics and artist performance at the May Day Stadium on Monday. PHOTO: ST FILE

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister, has appeared in public for the first time in nearly two months, dispelling speculation that she had been under probation over the breakdown of the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February.

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Workers' Party of Korea First Vice Director Kim Yo Jong and Kim Jong Un attended a mass gymnastics and artist performance called "The Land of the People" at the May Day Stadium on Monday.

She had last been seen in North Korean media coverage on April 12, when she took part in the Supreme People's Assembly.

Her reappearance in state media's coverage of the event dispelled rumors raised by a conservative South Korean newspaper on Friday that a number of high-ranking officials and envoys involved in preparing for the summit in February had been purged, or even executed, because their leader had left the meeting empty-handed.

Nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington have since been in a stalemate.

South Korean conservative newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that Kim Yong Chol - the North Korean leader's right-hand man who had served as the counterpart of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - had been sent to do hard labour at a re-education camp.

However, Kim Yong Chol appeared at a public event on Monday for the second consecutive day, at the gymnastics performance, following his attendance of a performance by the wives of military officers on Sunday.

 
 
 

Regarding the state-run KCNA report, a Unification Ministry official said Kim Yong Chol "appears to maintain his post as a vice chairman of the ruling party's central committee."

In April, Seoul's spy agency said Kim Yong Chol had been removed from his post as head of the United Front Department, a major party agency.

The North's special envoy to the US, Kim Hyok Chol - whom Chosun Ilbo reported had been executed in March - has yet to appear in public.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that Kim Hyok Chol was alive and in state custody for investigation into his role in the failed summit, citing unnamed sources.

Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, downplayed the possibility that Kim Hyok Chol had been executed, as it would be unfair for him to face the toughest punishment compared with Kim Yong Chol, who oversaw the denuclearisation negotiations.

Cheong argued that no officials would be willing to take on the role of nuclear negotiator if the North Korean leader were to hold them responsible for the breakdown of talks and consequently send them to do forced labour, to political prison camps or to have them executed.

"If Kim has not given up on negotiations with the US, it is unlikely that he will impose such extreme punishment," he said.