Senior North Korean official sent to labour camp for ‘breaching doctrine’ on US negotiations

North Korea’s vice foreign minister and five ministerial directors have been sent to one of the regime’s most notorious labour camps, apparently after submitting a proposal on ways to break the diplomatic impasse with the United States that was condemned by Kim Jong-un for “breaching doctrine”.

Han Song-ryol, a veteran negotiator in talks between Pyongyang and Washington, was sacked last year, an official of South Korea’s Unification Ministry told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

The ministry confirmed Mr Han’s fate in the latter part of last year and has removed him from its latest list of officials in the North Korean government.

The newspaper quoted another official as saying that Mr Han was sent to the Komdok mine, in South Hamgyong Province, to undergo “re-education”.

That punishment is likely to include long hours labouring in the mine, with little food or medical care should it be required. The North Korean government also has a policy of punishing anyone found guilty of failing the nation by sentencing their immediate family to prison terms that include hard labour.

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“It seems that a proposal for US-North Korea talks he submitted to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was criticised for breaching doctrine”, the ministry official said.

Pyongyang and Washington are locked in talks about a second summit between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump that is scheduled to take place in February.

Diplomats have held talks in Sweden in an attempt to narrow the two sides’ differences, although it remains unclear whether either side is willing to compromise.

North Korea is demanding the lifting of international sanctions in return for a phased elimination of its nuclear weapons and the capability to produce more warheads. The US has so far been insisting on the complete, verifiable and irreversible destruction of the North’s nuclear capabilities, although there have been hints from Mr Trump that he might be willing to reduce some of his demands.

Mr Han’s fall from grace may have been the result of suggesting that North Korea give ground to the US.

A defector who previously served in the North Korean government told the newspaper that, “Being sent to the Komdok mine is the harshest of re-education sentences and means that he just escaped being sent to a concentration camp”.

It has also been suggested that Mr Han’s long links with the US – he served as deputy chief of the North’s mission to the UN for four years from 2002 and was appointed director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s US affairs division in 2015 – caused him to come under suspicion of being an agent for the US.

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