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North Korean Official Reappears After Three-Month Absence

FILE - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, welcomes North Korea's special envoy Choe Ryong Hae during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Nov. 20, 2014.

North Korea's top official, who disappeared from the public eye for three months, reappeared in public, according to reports Friday from the communist country's state-run media.

The Korean Central News Agency reported that Choe Ryong Hae, a close aide of leader Kim Jong Un, delivered a speech at an event held in the capital, Pyongyang, on Thursday.

Choe, who is secretary of the ruling Workers' Party, was once viewed as one of North Korea's most powerful figures.

He had not been seen in public since November, when his name did not appear on a list of attendees at a state funeral, sparking rumors that he might have been purged. South Korea's intelligence agency believes Choe underwent re-education during his absence, a lighter form of punishment than purge.

Return to power?

Whether Choe's reappearance in public means he has completely restored ties to power remains unclear.

South Korea's Unification Ministry appeared to lean toward the possibility of Choe's return, but did not confirm it, saying more information was needed.

Cheong Seong-chang, director of unification strategy at the Seoul-based Sejong Institute, said the reappearance was likely an indication that Choe has returned to power.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University who specializes in North Korea, said Choe's absence was shorter than expected, a possible reflection of Choe's influence within the regime.

"A lot of the elites that support Kim Jong Un may be under Choe's influence, and some of them even rose to power because of him," Koh said.

Choe has been widely seen as Pyongyang's point man on Beijing since the execution of Jang Song Thaek in December 2013. Jang, Kim's uncle, was known to have close ties to Chinese leaders.

Last September, Choe traveled to Beijing to attend a high-profile military parade on behalf of Kim.

VOA’s Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.