North Korea (Wire)

(2nd LD) N.K. leader offers condolences over key aide’s death

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SEOUL, Dec. 31 (Yonhap) — North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has offered “profound” condolences over the death of his key aide who handled inter-Korean affairs, Pyongyang’s state media said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Kim visited the mortuary of Kim Yang-gon, a secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, who died on Tuesday in a car accident, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea held a state funeral for Kim, who is called “the closest comrade-in-arms” of the North Korean leader, earlier in the day.

The KCNA said the North’s leader Kim could hardly “repress his bitter grief” for long, saying that his death is a “great loss” to the country, the KCNA said.

North Korea and the party will “always remember” the life of Kim who remained “boundlessly loyal to the party and the revolution with steadfast faith in the justice of his cause,” it added.

Kim Yang-gon was one of the two ranking North Korean officials who attended the rare inter-Korean high-level talks in August following heightened tensions sparked by a land mine blast near the inter-Korean border blamed on North Korea.

The two Koreas reached a rare deal on Aug. 25 to defuse military tensions and make efforts to promote inter-Korean civilian exchanges.

In 2007, he was named the head of the party’s United Front Department, which manages Pyongyang’s relations with Seoul under the regime of Kim Jong-il, the father of the North’s current leader, who died in late 2011.

He also contributed to realizing an inter-Korean summit held between Kim Jong-il and then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in October of that year.

Regarding Kim’s death, some analysts have cast doubt over the North’s report, raising the possibility that he might have been killed in the disguise of a car accident by hardliners in the North’s military. Kim had the reputation of being a mild and dialogue-seeking figure in the North.

In what might be a coincidence, Kim’s predecessor Kim Yong-sun also died in a traffic accident in 2003.

But an official at the South Korean government said that it sees the chance of Kim Yang-gon having been assassinated to be slim.

Free North Korea Radio said Thursday that Kim died in a car crash on his way back to Pyongyang after visiting the northwestern border city of Sinuiju for an inspection of a factory.

“In North Korea, a car accident usually takes place when a vehicle collides with military trucks, which often move at dawn or night,” the government official added. “There is a high possibility that (Kim’s case) was simply an accident.”

   sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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