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Purged North Korea official reinstated after death of Kim Yang Gon

Choe Ryong Hae, who has been missing since early November, was included in a roster of top official names.

By
Elizabeth Shim
Kim Yang Gon, director of the United Front Department of the Korean Workers' Party, died in a car accident on Tuesday, according to Pyongyang. Foul play is not suspected, a South Korean analyst said Wednesday. File Photo by Yonhap
Kim Yang Gon, director of the United Front Department of the Korean Workers' Party, died in a car accident on Tuesday, according to Pyongyang. Foul play is not suspected, a South Korean analyst said Wednesday. File Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- One of North Korea's most powerful politicians could return to Pyongyang after the sudden death of inter-Korea negotiator Kim Yang Gon, who died in a car crash Tuesday.

Choe Ryong Hae, North Korea's Workers' Party secretary, was included in a roster of top official names, made public during a North Korea announcement for the former Kim's state funeral committee, Jiji Press reported.

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The list also included Won Dong Yon, a deputy director of the United Front Department of the Korean Workers' Party. Won had been missing for months and was reportedly purged in connection to graft.

Choe had been missing from public life since early November, when his name was not included on a roster of top official names Kim Jong Un made public at the funeral of Ri Ul Sol of the Korean People's Army.

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A source inside North Korea had said Choe was serving a sentence of hard labor at a mine, after being purged for a power plant malfunction near Mount Paektu.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, said it is likely Kim Jong Un had reinstated Choe to replace the deceased Kim Yang Gon.

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Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, told television network YTN the death of Kim Yang Gon could have an impact on North-South relations, but that no foul play is suspected since Kim Yang Gon continued to be active in public life until Dec. 18.

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Kim Yang Gon had spoken in favor of increased dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang and played a key role in brokering an agreement in August that defused tensions at the border.

Relations between North and South could be conducted in a more "rigid" manner, the South Korean analyst said, adding that even though Choe could have been reinstated, Kim Yang Gon's potential replacements do not have the depth and breadth of his experience.

Possible successors could include Won Dong Yon, Maeng Kyong Il, deputy director of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, and Jeon Jong Su, deputy secretariat of the same committee.

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