North purge may be tied to memoir

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North purge may be tied to memoir


Won Tong-yon

Won Tong-yon, a senior North Korean official with years of experience in inter-Korean relations, has disappeared from public view since last December, around the time of the publication of a memoir by former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak that mentioned a mission he was on.

Won, the vice head of the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party, has not been seen since he greeted Rep. Park Jie-won of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy in Kaesong last December to accept a wreath before the third anniversary of the death of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Won, who also led a delegation for high-level talks with South Korea in Kaesong in February 2014, is known for his dovish stance with Seoul,

Suspicion that Won has fallen victim to Kim Jong-un’s reign of terror was heightened earlier this month when he was not seen meeting Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, in Pyongyang on her four-day trip there.

Ministry of Unification spokesman Jeong Joon-hee refused to confirm the fate of Won, saying that kind of information is classified.

If Won did get purged, he is likely to be undergoing so-called “revolutionary education,” probably doing hard labor outside the North Korean capital.

Suspicions of a possible purge came three months after reports by Korean media that a number of senior officials involved in inter-Korean relations had been investigated after former President Lee Myung-bak included colorful anecdotes about them in a memoir published last February.

In “The President’s Time 2008-2013,” Lee wrote that the North demanded 100,000 tons of corn, 400,000 tons of rice, 300,000 tons of fertilizer, $100 million for road construction and $10 billion in capital to establish a state development bank in 2009, and the talks on holding an inter-Korean summit fell through.

Lee wrote that Kim Yang-gon, a top North Korean official in charge of inter-Korean relations, told a special envoy from the Lee government during a meeting in Singapore in 2009 that he would face death if he came back to the North without some tangible outcome. Won Tong-yon accompanied Kim to Singapore.

Kim was said to be among senior officials probed over their dealings with South Korea, though he returned to his position without punishment.

Reports on the possible purge of Won came just days after a report that Choe Yong-gon, a vice premier, was executed around the same time Hyon Yong-chol, a former defense chief, was executed in May.

North Korea has remained silent on the reported executions of its senior officials. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported in May that around 70 officials were executed since Kim Jong-un took power following his father’s death in 2011, seven times more than the number of officials executed during his father’s first four years, which was around 10.

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