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N Korea at crossroads

North Korea brings Kim's uncle home from Europe, says Seoul

Longtime ambassador faces political purge, some speculate

Kim Pyong Il, seen here in a 2015 photo in Prague, served as North Korea's ambassador to the Czech Republic.   © AP

SEOUL -- An uncle of North Korean autocrat Kim Jong Un returned home recently after serving more than 30 years as an envoy to Europe, South Korea's spy agency told lawmakers this weekend.

Kim Pyong Il was last stationed in the Czech Republic as North Korea's ambassador.

The 65-year-old envoy is a half-brother of Kim Jong Il, the previous North Korean leader. Kim Pyong Il lost the race to succeed their father, Kim Il Sung -- the country's first ruler -- despite receiving backing from his birth mother.

Kim Pyong Il was appointed as the top envoy to Hungary in 1988. He went on to serve as the North Korean ambassador to multiple European countries.

The South Korean media, which broke the news of Kim Pyong Il's return, has speculated on the reason for Pyongyang's move. Some think he will be purged. It was only two years ago that Kim Jong Un's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed by exposure to VX nerve agent at a Malaysian airport in an apparent assassination.

But Kim Jong Un does not see Kim Pyong Il as a major threat to his authority, according to a piece in the Maeil Business Newspaper. The North Korean leader has solidified his political base, and Kim Pyong Il has not criticized the current regime, the article said.

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