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North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Kim Yong-chol during talks with the US in Hanoi. Photo: Reuters

North Korea executed Kim Hyok-chol and other officials after failed Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, South Korean media claims

  • The Chosun Ilbo, citing an unnamed source, said top negotiators were either killed or subjected to forced labour after denuclearisation talks between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump ended without resolution
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington was attempting to check on the reports of the envoy’s execution
Kim Jong-un
North Korea executed Kim Hyok-chol, its special envoy to the United States, and foreign ministry officials who carried out working-level negotiations for the second US-North Korea summit in February, holding them responsible for its collapse, a South Korean newspaper reported on Friday.
Kim Yong-chol, a senior official who had been US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s counterpart in the run-up to the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, is also said to have been subjected to forced labour and ideological education, the Chosun Ilbo reported.

The North Korean leader is believed to be carrying out a massive purge to divert attention away from internal turmoil and discontent, the newspaper said.

“Kim Hyok-chol was investigated and executed at Mirim Airport with four foreign ministry officials in March,” an unnamed North Korea source said, according to the Chosun Ilbo, adding that they were charged with spying for the United States.

Kim Hyok-chol (right) was executed after the failed talks with the US in Hanoi. photo: AP

Kim Hyok-chol had been the negotiations counterpart to US special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun before the summit.

Kim Yong-chol was forced to work in Jagang Province after his dismissal, the source said, adding that Kim Song-hye, who carried out working-level negotiations with Kim Hyok-chol, was sent to a political prison camp, Chosun reported.

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Shin Hye-yong, the interpreter for Kim Jong-un at the Hanoi meeting, is also said to have been detained in a political prison camp for undermining the authority of Kim Jong-un by making a critical interpretation mistake.

Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister who aided him in Hanoi, is said to be lying low, the paper reported, citing an unnamed South Korean government official who said: “We are not aware of Kim Yo-jong’s track record since the Hanoi meeting … We understand that Kim Jong-un has made her lie low.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo escorts Vice Chairman of the North Korean Workers’ Party Committee Kim Yong-chol, who was reported to have been subjected to forced labour after failed US talks. Photo: Reuters

North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary on Thursday that “Acting like one is revering the Leader in front [of others] but dreaming of something else when one turns around, is an anti-Party, antirevolutionary act that has thrown away the moral fidelity toward the Leader, and such people will not avoid the stern judgment of the revolution.”

“There are traitors and turncoats who only memorise words of loyalty toward the Leader and even change according to the trend of the time,” the commentary said.

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It is the first time since the December 2013 execution of Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, that expressions hinting at purging such as “anti-party, antirevolutionary” and “stern judgment” appeared in Rodong Sinmun, Chosun Ilbo said.

An official at South Korea’s Unification Ministry declined to comment.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters in Singapore on Friday evening that he could not confirm Kim Hyok-chol’s execution.


Kim Dong-yub, a professor specialising in North Korea at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in South Korea, was sceptical that the Chosun report was credible. This type of political execution would be seen domestically as an attempt by the North Korean leader to shift blame for a summit that was well-publicised within the secretive state, he said.

The United States is attempting to check on the reports of the envoy’s execution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during his visit to Berlin on Friday.


When asked about reports of a “shakeup” of Kim Jong-un’s negotiating team in a May 5 interview with ABC News, Pompeo said it did appear that his future counterpart would be somebody else “but we don’t know that for sure.”

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Top envoy to US ‘executed in wake of summit failure’