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North Korea’s top official on South Korea relations dies

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 vehicle crash, the country’s government said.

A top North Korean official in charge of ties with South Korea and reunification was killed in a traffic accident, Pyongyang’s state media said Wednesday.

Jang himself survived a vehicle accident in 2006 but was executed in 2013 by his nephew and new leader Kim Jong-Un after being condemned as a “traitor” to the nation.

“He was surely trusted by the Kim family regime”, stated Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

Hong Yong-pyo, South Korea’s minister of unification, sent official condolences on Wednesday.

In one twist, Choe Ryong Hae, who was considered one of Kim Jong Un’s top lieutenants, was included on the funeral committee list for Kim Yang Gon, marking a potential return to favor for Mr. Choe.

In 1976, an official said to be a rival to then-president Kim Il Sung died in a auto crash.

Yet a few events could bring about a turnaround in the mood, including an envisioned visit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the communist state and one-on-one talks with leader Kim Jong-un.

But he noted that “traffic accidents are very uncommon” in North Korea.

None of those speculations has been independently confirmed as it’s nearly impossible to verify what is exactly happening among the ruling elite in the secretive, authoritarian North. But similar speculations again appeared in the South Korean media following Kim Yang Gon’s death, though without any substantial evidences.

December 26, 2009: KCNA says Ri Chol Bong, chief secretary of the Workers’ Party’s Kangwon provincial committee, died in a traffic accident at age 78 the previous day. But Kim’s military, which traditionally favors a hard-line stance on South Korea, had reportedly tried to hold him in check.

Another analyst told CNN that a “suspicious” number of high-ranking North Korean officials have met their end in vehicle accidents.

According to the Swiss non-profit International Campaign To Abolish Nuclear Weapons, North Korea is one of only eight countries in the world with nuclear weapons.

North Korean spy chief Kim Yang Gon gets in a vehicle upon his arrival at the transit office near the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul, in this file picture taken November 29, 2007.

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