North Korea sends denuclearization diplomat to ‘re-education’ camp: Reports

January 30, 2019 GMT

A former top North Korean diplomat, who for decades played a pivotal role in Pyongyang’s fraught relations with Washington, has been fired and sent away to a remote “re-education camp,” according to South Korean media reports.

Former Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol, who served twice as deputy chief of the North’s mission at the United Nations in New York, has been absent from North Korean state media announcements since a trip he made to Sweden in February last year, the reports on Wednesday said.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that it is believed Mr. Han was replaced by current Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, who has taken a lead, albeit behind-the-scenes role in diplomacy between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the Trump administration.


Sources who’ve spoken anonymously with The Washington Times said it was unclear why Mr. Han may have been removed from the diplomatic developments, which have involved highly sensitive talks on whether and how the Kim regime might submit to Trump administration pressure to abandon its nuclear weapons in exchange for possible sanctions relief from Washington.

One source close to the administration said this week that Mr. Kim appears to have purged several former high-level officials who have accused him of “being played” by Washington during denuclearization talks over the past year.

But such information has not been independently verified, and analysts caution that the Kim regime operates like “a black box,” making it difficult for outside observers to be certain why a given official may have been demoted or punished.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, which was first on Wednesday to report on Mr. Han’s firing, cited an unnamed source as saying the former vice foreign minister and five other director-level officials in Pyongyang had been sent to a re-education camp at North Korea’s Komdok mine.

“It seems a proposal for U.S.-North Korea talks he submitted to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was criticized for breaching doctrine,” the source told the newspaper.

Chosun Ilbo maintained that those sent away for such re-education perform hard labor in mines, plantations and poultry farms. The newspaper cited a high-level North Korean defector as saying: “Being sent to the Komdok mine is the harshest of reeducation sentences and means he just escaped being sent to a concentration camp.”

Chosun also cited a South Korean government source as saying: “The sacking of Han Song-ryol is related to his long-term service in the North dealing with the U.S. He was probably labeled a spy due to his years serving as the U.S.′ main contact point in the North.”