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North Korean leader's 'closest comrade' dies in car accident

A top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been killed in a traffic accident, according to state-run media. The man was a seasoned diplomat who served under all of North Korea's supreme leaders.

Kim Yang Gon (top left) devoted his efforts to implementing Pyongyang's policy on reunification

Kim Yang Gon (top left) devoted his efforts to implementing Pyongyang's policy on reunification

The nation's state-run news agency has reported the death of one of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's closest aides. The official was a career party diplomat, known for mediating inter-Korean relations.

"Comrade Kim Yang Gon, a Worker's Party secretary and member of the party Central Committee Politbureau … died in a traffic accident at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday at age 73," reported Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to lead an 80-member state funeral for the career diplomat on Thursday, said KCNA.

Kim Yang Gon - described as Kim Jong-un's "closest comrade, a solid revolutionary partner" - also served as head of North Korea's United Front Department, a unit that dealt with Pyongyang's ties with South Korea.

He was instrumental in realizing the 2007 summit that brought together the late Kim Jong Il and former South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun.

In August, he was one of only two North Korean officials that engaged South Korea in high-level talks aimed at defusing tensions prompted by a land mine blast near the inter-Korean border.

Kim Yang Gon's death has prompted concern over future relations between the Koreas.

"This is going to deliver negative impacts on inter-Korean relations," Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP news agency.

"In light of the North's nature, I don't see anyone who can replace him in his role in daring to offer policy ideas and advice to the leader in these fields," the professor said.

The veteran diplomat also served under the late Kim Il Sung, the supreme leader of the North when it was established in 1948.

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ls/bk (AFP, Reuters)

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