SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Wednesday that the country's top official in charge of relations with South Korea died in a traffic accident earlier this week. The Korean Central News Agency gave no other details, triggering questions about the death of a man who was dubbed as a close associate of absolute leader Kim Jong Un.
He's not the only senior North Korean official reported to have died in a car accident. While information in the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm, outside observers use the officials' reported feuding with their political opponents to guess who might have been behind their demise. They also speculate the officials might have been driving after overnight drinking parties.
A look at past high-profile, mysterious car accidents in North Korea:
June 3, 2010: KCNA says Ri Je Gang, first vice department director of the Workers' Party's Central Committee, died in a traffic accident at age 80 the previous day. Ri reportedly bickered with Jang Song Thaek, a powerful uncle of Kim Jong Un, who was eventually executed by his nephew for alleged treason in 2013.
Dec. 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. There was little speculation on Ri, who was relatively little known to outsiders.
September 2006: Jang, the executed uncle of Kim, reportedly survived a car accident, according to South Korean media reports. Foreign analysts believe Jang was also purged and sent to a labor camp for two years in the mid-2000s in what was seen as a move by Kim Jong Il to clip his wings.
October 2003: KCNA reports Kim Yong Sun, a senior North Korean official involved in reconciliation efforts with South Korea, died of injuries sustained in a traffic accident four months ago. Kim Yong Sun was a close aide to then-leader Kim Jong Il, the late father of Kim Jong Un. But Kim Jong Il's military, which traditionally favors a hard-line stance on South Korea, had reportedly tried to hold him in check.
Kim Yong Sun was the only senior North Korean official who sat in at the historic summit between Kim Jong Il and then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 2000.