Kim Yang Gon, director of North Korea’s United Front Department, has died in a road accident, North Korean state media outlet the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Wednesday morning.
“Kim Yang Gon passed away on Juche 103 (2015) December 29 due to a road accident, ” an English translation of the KCNA material quoted by South Korean press said.
A separate news piece from KCNA said Kim would be given a state funeral, which will be held on December 31 at 8 AM.
Kim was director of the United Front Department (UFD) since 2007, the department of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea which is responsible for inter-Korean affairs, roughly the North’s counterpart to Seoul’s Ministry of Unification.
As director of the UFD, Kim served as Pyongyang’s point-man on relations with the South, most notably participating in marathon talks at Panmunjom last August with South Korean counterparts following the landmine crisis.
Notably, Kim’s death follows persistent rumors about the purge or reeducation of Choe Ryong Hae, WPK Secretary for the Workers’ Organization and chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission.
Choe, who negotiated closely with Kim at August’s marathon inter-Korean talks, himself last appeared in state media on October 22 and was unseen for the entire month of November, including his conspicuous absence at Ri Ul Sol’s funeral.
“The big question of course now is who will assume Kim’s role as point-man on the South,” said John Grisafi, NK News Director of Intelligence, about Kim’s death. “His successor could just as easily come from another part of the Party or government, someone else with experience dealing with the South,” Grisafi continued.
Michael Madden, a long-time watcher of the DPRK leadership, told NK News that Kim’s replacement would not likely be announced until May, when a rare party congress event is due to take place.
“I am concerned that during the interregnum that the North’s policy toward ROK may be subsumed by the more hawkish elements within the DPRK’s intelligence community,” warned Madden.
“(The late) Kim was not exactly a moderate, but he was a pragmatist and he was very much able to balance divergent interests in the North’s national security community.
“He was also a skilled bureaucratic manager who managed to retain civilian control over the North’s policymaking toward the South back in 2009 when KJI restructured the intelligence and foreign policy communities,” he continued, adding “the South has lost a reliable interlocutor and contact in Pyongyang.”
Kim was born April 24, 1942, and was 73 years old. His last appearance in state media was December 1.
Additional reporting: John Grisafi
Featured image: KCNA
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