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Kim Yo Jong makes first public appearance in 50 days

By Elizabeth Shim
Kim Yo Jong makes first public appearance in 50 days
Kim Yo Jong (L), younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R), was seated next to first lady Ri Sol Ju (C) during a mass gymnastics performance at May Day Stadium. Screenshot of KCTV

June 4 (UPI) -- Kim Yo Jong made her first public appearance in more than 50 days at a gymnastics performance at Pyongyang's May Day Stadium, only days after South Korean politicians and analysts suggested the North Korean leader's sister was "lying low" following the collapse of talks in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Kim, the first deputy head of the propaganda committee of the Korean Workers' Party, appeared in photographs in Rodong Sinmun on Tuesday, seated alongside Ri Sol Ju, North Korea's first lady. She also sat closer to her brother than Ri Su Yong, the vice chairman of the Workers' Party, but her name was also listed last in the Rodong article.

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Kim and other top North Korean officials, including senior negotiator Kim Yong Chol, were the subject of recent speculation about a possible shakeup in the country. South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo cited an anonymous source last week who said Kim Yong Chol had been sent to a labor or re-education camp following the breakdown of talks between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam.

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But North Korea published a photograph in state media on Monday, showing Kim Yong Chol at a concert, seated in the same row as the North Korean leader.

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South Korea's unification ministry is refuting speculation Kim Yo Jong was either demoted or has experienced a change in status.

"The order in which names are listed, or the seating arrangement [of North Korean officials] is not directly related to political status," a ministry official told South Korea's Korea Times.

Kim Hyok Chol, a North Korea negotiator who interfaced with U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit, has yet to make an appearance. According to the Chosun article, now widely refuted in Seoul, Kim was likely "executed" for the failed talks.

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Yonhap reported Tuesday the unification ministry is keeping a close eye on the latest developments. The ministry said the return of Kim Yong Chol after a prolonged absence could mean he is retaining his position as vice chairman of inter-Korea affairs of the Workers' Party.

Chung Seong-chang, a South Korean analyst at the Sejong Institute, said North Korea could be displaying the officials in response to outside rumors about their absence.

The country may have wanted to mitigate the impact of rumors on the image of Kim Jong Un, Chung said.

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