N. Korea’s senior official handling inter-Korean affairs dies

December 29, 2015
Kim Yang-gon (Yonhap)

Kim Yang-gon (Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — Kim Yang-gon, North Korea’s top party official handling inter-Korean affairs, was killed in a traffic accident, Pyongyang’s state media said Wednesday. He was 73.

Kim, a secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and a member of the party’s Central Committee Politbureau, died in car accident at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency.

The KCNA called Kim “the closest comrade” to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying that North Korea will hold a state funeral for Kim on Thursday, to be headed by the North’s leader.

The report of Kim’s sudden death came weeks after the two Koreas ended high-level talks on Dec. 12 without producing any agreement on mending ties.

Kim Yang-gon was one of the two ranking North Korean officials who attended the rare inter-Korean high-level talks in August following heightened tensions sparked by a land mine blast near the inter-Korean border blamed on North Korea.

The two Koreas reached a rare deal on Aug. 25 to defuse military tension and make efforts to promote inter-Korean civilian exchanges.

“Kim’s sudden death may hamper Seoul-Pyongyang ties as recent inter-Korean talks fell apart,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute.

Kim had mainly dealt with inter-Korean affairs since the regime of Kim Jong-il, the father of the North’s current leader, who died in late 2011.

In 2007, Kim was named the head of the party’s United Front Department, which manages Pyongyang’s relations with Seoul. He also contributed to creating an inter-Korean summit held between Kim Jong-il and then-South Korean President Ro Moo-hyun in October of that year.

Since Kang Sok-ju, a secretary handling international relations for the North’s ruling party, remains ill, Kim was known as effectively doubling up with Kang’s jobs at the party.

North Korea announced a list of members for the funeral committee for Kim, including Choe Ryong-hae, a senior secretary of the ruling party and a key aide to the North’s leader.

In November, Choe was sent to a rural farm as punishment for his mishandling of a newly built hydroelectric power plant project. The inclusion of his name on the list may indicate that Choe has been reinstated.

The Unification Ministry in South Korea has not made comments on Choe’s status.