January 30, 2019 12:46
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol, an old hand in U.S.-North Korean diplomacy, has been sacked and sent to a reeducation camp. Han's name has been scrapped from a list of the top seven Foreign Ministry officials in the "2019 Who's Who in North Korea" published by the Unification Ministry.
A government source said, "We received information from an agency in the second half of last year that there were significant changes in Han Song-ryol's status and reflected the developments."
Another source said Han and five other director-level officials had been sent for reeducation to the Komdok mine in South Hamgyong Province. "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 added.
Those sent away for reeducation perform hard labor in mines, plantations and poultry farms. One defector who used to be a senior official said, "Being sent to the Komdok mine is the harshest of reeducation sentences and means he just escaped being sent to a concentration camp."
The defector added most who serve there return with serious physical impairments. A government source said, "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."
Han was born in 1954 and graduated from Kim Il-sung University before joining the Foreign Ministry in 1980. He served as the deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the UN from 2002 to 2006 and was appointed director-general of the U.S. affairs department at the Foreign Ministry in 2015.
Robert Egan, who has developed relationships with North Korean diplomats, described his friendship with Han in a 2010 book titled "Eating with the Enemy."
According to the book, Egan asked Han who he respects the most, and Han said, "Donald Trump." Han sent his daughter to Columbia University in the late 1990s, and South Koreans living in New York apparently collected money to pay for her tuition.
Some experts view Han's sacking as a typical case of guilt by association. Thae Yong-ho, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the U.K. before defecting to South Korea in 2016, said in an interview with the North Korea Strategy Center in February 2017, "The father of Han Song-ryol's son-in-law was purged because he was close to [former North Korean eminence grise] Jang Song-taek, while Han's son-in-law and grandson were sent to political prison camps." That suggests a purge targeting Jang loyalists continues.
Another source said, "Since Ri Su-yong, a vice chairman of the Workers Party Central Committee, was promoted to foreign minister, officials who were loyal to former vice premier Kang Sok-ju have been phased out. In the process, factional feuding erupted at the Foreign Ministry and Han Song-ryol, who was loyal to Kang, got caught up in it."
Also gone from this year's Who's Who is Pak Kil-yon (76), who served as permanent representative to the UN from 2001 to 2008 and later vice foreign minister. Pak was also seen as loyal to Kang.
A government source said, "There have been no records of any public activities by Pak Kil-yon for more than five years, so we assume he retired and deleted his name."
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