'Purged' North Korean diplomat appears in public

SEOUL (AFP) - A veteran North Korean diplomat reportedly purged over the recent defection of the deputy ambassador to Britain has appeared in public - albeit without his former job title.

South Korea's mass-circulation JoongAng Ilbo reported last week that vice foreign minister Kung Sok Ung had been dismissed and expelled from Pyongyang to a rural farming area with his family.

But on Sunday the North's official KCNA news agency noted Kung's presence at a football match in the capital.

The KCNA report referred to him as the "former vice minister", confirming he was no longer in his original post but suggesting he may have just retired.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper in Seoul quoted a source as saying that Kung's daughter was still living in Pyongyang and acting as a guide for foreign visitors.

As the vice foreign minister, Kung, 72, had special responsibility for European affairs. His dossier fuelled speculation he might have been punished for the defection two months ago of the North's deputy ambassador to Britain, Thae Yong Ho, and his family to South Korea.

The Chosun Ilbo quoted a South Korean government source as saying the defection had triggered a reshuffle that saw Kung moved out.