Choe Ryong-hae
Choe Ryong-hae talking with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attending a military parade in Pyongyang AFP/Getty Images

One of North Korea's most powerful men has made a surprise comeback, months after going under the radar amid reports he was either purged or sent to a 're-education' camp. Choe Ryong-hae's name was listed along with those of dictator Kim Jong-un and four other officials that will sit in a state funeral committee for Kim Yang-gon, a senior party figure who was killed in a car crash earlier this week.

Choe had not appeared in public or been named in official statements for two months. The sudden disappearance of the vice marshal, once considered Kim's right-hand man, led analysts to believe he had been the target of one of the young leader's infamous purges.

South Korean media reported he was punished over a serious malfunction at a power station and was sent to a labour camp, differently described as a mine or a co-operative farm to receive "ideological re-education". Sources inside the reclusive state recently told South Korean outlet CBS his family, including his wife and married son, had also left Pyongyang.

It was not the first time that Choe has returned from disgrace. He was first demoted on corruption allegations in 1998 and underwent another re-education period in 2004, according to the UPI news agency.

His latest comeback, however, is the latest indication of an apparent change in approach towards officials' failures in the hermit kingdom, according to analysts. Violent purges and executions have seemingly been replaced by short-lived punishment, with a series of officials being recently reinstated after dismissal.

"The series of reinstatements of key officials this year suggests Kim Jong-un might be backtracking on his reign of terror", Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, told AFP.