North Korean leader Kim Jongpun’s aunt made her first public appearance in about six years, state media reported yesterday, quelling rumors that she was purged or executed by her nephew after helping him inherit power from his father.
According to a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) dispatch, the name of Kim Kyong-hui was included in a list of top North Korean officials who watched a performance marking Lunar New Year’s Day with Kim Jong-un at a Pyongyang theater on Saturday.
North Korea’s main newspaper also released a photo showing Kim Kyong-hui sitting near Kim Jong-un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, at the Samjiyon Theater.
Photo: Korean Central News Agency via AP
Kim Kyong-hui, 73, was once an influential figure in North Korea as the only sister of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un.
She had initially kept a low profile during the early part of her brother’s rule, but she later frequently accompanied him on his inspection trips after he suffered a stroke in 2008.
While taking up many top posts, such as a four-star army general and a member of the powerful Politburo, she was also believed to have played a key role in grooming Kim Jong-un as the next leader.
Kim Jong-un eventually took power after his father died of a heart attack in late 2011.
Kim Kyong-hui’s fate had been in doubt after Kim Jong-un had her husband and then-North Korea’s No. 2 official, Jang Song-thaek, executed for treason and corruption in December 2013.
His death was reported by Pyongyang and remains the most significant in a series of executions or purges that Kim Jong-un has engineered in what outside experts believe were attempts to remove potential rivals and cement his grip on power.
Days after Jang’s execution, Kim Kyong-hui’s name was mentioned in a KCNA dispatch as a member of a funeral committee for another top official. However, she missed a state ceremony commemorating the second anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death days later.
Her name had since never been mentioned in North Korean state media until yesterday’s report.
Some North Korea monitoring groups in Seoul and foreign media outlets had speculated that Kim Jong-un had his aunt executed or purged, or she died of health problems.
Outside experts said Kim Kyong-hui had long suffered from liver and heart problems and high blood pressure.
Analyst Cheong Seong-chang at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute said that Kim Kyong-hui’s re-emergence suggested Kim Jong-un was attempting to strengthen the unity of his ruling family as he is pushing to harden his position toward the US in stalled nuclear negotiations.
However, Kim Kyong-hui is unlikely to regain her political influence, as she now has no position in the politburo, which has already been filled with new figures, Cheong said.
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