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[Newsmaker] Top N.K. official in charge of Seoul ties dies

Dec. 30, 2015 - 08:16 By 옥현주

Kim Yang-gon, a top North Korean official in charge of cross-border affairs, was killed in a car accident, the North’s state media reported Wednesday, drawing attention to the impact of his death on inter-Korean relations. He was 73.

Kim Yang-gon (Yonhap)

The North’s Korea Central News Agency said that Kim, a secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party and director of the party’s United Front Department, died at 6:15 a.m. on Tuesday following the accident, without elaborating.

The demise of the North’s core diplomatic official, seen as a relatively dovish negotiator favoring dialogue, could negatively affect Seoul’s efforts toward inter-Korean cooperation and reconciliation, analysts noted. 

“Our comrade, Kim Yang-gon has devotedly fought to realize our party’s policy of independent national reunification,” the KCNA said in a report. “Kim was loved and respected by the party members and people for his ceaseless dedication to the party and revolution, his revolutionary principles and humble character.”

Pyongyang decided to hold a state funeral for the deceased party secretary, according to the KCNA. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will chair the funeral committee. His funeral ceremony will be held on Thursday.

North Korea also announced a list of Kim’s funeral committee members, which included Choe Ryong-hae, a senior secretary of the ruling party. Choe, who had been the North Korean leader’s key aide, was sent to a rural farm in November as punishment over the mishandling of a hydroelectric power plant project.

Seoul’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo sent his condolences to the North by fax. Seoul is considering sending a delegation to attend Kim’s funeral.

The late Kim has long led the communist state’s external policy affairs including cross-border issues and those related to China -- a reason why observers say his death would influence Pyongyang’s foreign policy to a certain extent.

“As the party secretary who has led inter-Korean affairs died abruptly, it seems inevitable that cross-border talks would be suspended for a long period,” said Cheong Seong-chang, senior research fellow at the local think tank Sejong Institute.

“Given that he has also played a role as an acting party secretary in charge of international affairs, the possibility has increased that the improvement in the relations between Pyongyang and Beijing would also be delayed.”

Other analysts, however, said that his death would not seriously affect Pyongyang’s external policy, given that the dictatorial ruler calls all the shots when it comes to crucial policy issues.

Born in 1942 in Anju, South Pyongan Province, Kim started his party work at the party’s Central Committee, upon his graduation from the foreign language and literature department of the Kim Il-sung University.

Since then, he had worked up the ladder of the party hierarchy mostly in the divisions handling foreign affairs and inter-Korean relations.

In 2007, he was appointed to lead the United Front Department and led the work of arranging the 2007 inter-Korean summit between then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. At the summit, Kim was the only official who flanked and assisted the North Korean leader.

Along with Chang Song-thaek, the executed uncle of the North Korean leader, Kim had led affairs regarding China as well. He is known to have led the preparatory work for late former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s trip to China in 2010.

Since 1998, he served as a core member of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the North’s rubber-stamp parliament. In 2010, he was appointed as a member of the party’s Central Committee and candidate member of the party’s powerful politburo.

After Kim Jong-un took the helm of the country in December 2011 upon his father’s death, Kim Yang-gon continued to lead foreign policy affairs and was later appointed as a member of the politburo.

Most recently, the late party secretary received the media spotlight in August as he, along with two other officials from the North, engaged in cross-border negotiations to defuse tensions caused by Pyongyang’s landmine provocation on Aug. 4.

By Song Sang-ho (