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Death of Kim dims hopes on rival links

Kim Yang-gon, a senior official in North Korea’s ruling party who was responsible for building ties with South Korea, died on Tuesday in a auto crash, the country’s government said.

Another analyst told CNN that a “suspicious” number of high-ranking North Korean officials have met their end in vehicle accidents. South Korea has previously offered similar condolences when senior North Korean officials died.

Kim was secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party and chief of its United Front Department, which manages North Korea’s relations with South Korea.

Kim Jong Un has dismissed a string of top aides since he took over when his father died suddenly in 2011.

Most recently, he was one of the two top North Korean officials who attended rare high-level talks in August.

Reports in May said that North Korean defense minister Hyon Yong-chol was publicly executed, possibly by an anti-aircraft gun, on April 30 for disloyalty to Kim Jong-un.

In 2013, Kim had his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, executed.

Kim Yang-gon’s role in charge of the unit handling inter-Korean ties saw him move closer to leader Kim Jong-un in recent months.

Wednesday’s KCNA dispatch described him as the leader’s “closest comrade-in-arms and steadfast revolutionary comrade” who had made “dedicated” efforts to push for unification with South Korea.

Pyongyang’s policy towards South Korea appeared uncertain Wednesday, after North Korea reported the death of a prominent figure in relations with Seoul. The two Koreas finally reached a six-point agreement to defuse the rising tensions, including plans to hold inter-governmental meetings and reunions for separated families split by the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea has no independent press or religious freedom and its citizens face rape, torture, forced labor and imprisonment and execution.

“This raises worries that an extended suspension in inter- Korean dialogue may be inevitable due to his death”, Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea analyst at the Sejong Institute near Seoul, said by text message. KCNA did not say who would replace him.

Kim Yang-gon was credited with helping serious battle is averted by both nations after an exchange of a landmine explosion as well as artillery fire – attributed on North Korea – two South Korean soldiers were maimed by that.

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