[Newsmaker] N.K. leader Kim’s aunt, wife in spotlight
Published : Dec 15, 2013 - 20:00
Updated : Dec 15, 2013 - 20:00
Kim Kyong-hui (left) and Ri Sol-ju

Following the demise of Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the whereabouts of the two’s respective wives, Kim Kyoung-hui and Ri Sol-ju, have come under the spotlight.

Kim, the leader’s only aunt, and his wife Ri have been out of the public eye for several months, sparking media speculation about their health and relationships with the increasingly coercive ruler.

Attention is now being drawn to whether both would appear in public on Tuesday, when Pyongyang holds a massive memorial ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il.

As if to challenge the rumors about Kim’s failing health, the North on Saturday put her name on the member list of the funeral committee for Kim Kuk-tae, a deceased chairman of the Inspection Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party.

Since September, Kim has not been shown in the North’s state media, spawning speculation that she is in bed suffering from diseases ranging from heart-related problems to dementia and cancer.

A series of photos released earlier this year indicated her health had worsened. Kim is thought to have suffered from depression and alcoholism, caused by marital discord and the sudden death in 2006 of her daughter Geum-song.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported Saturday that Kim received a divorce last Wednesday, a day before her husband Jang was executed under the directive of the leader, who was concerned about the blemish Jang could leave on his pedigree.

Observers believe that Kim Kyong-hui might have played some role in the execution of her husband, as they were apparently on bad terms given the rumors that Jang has had extramarital affairs. They were said to have lived separately for a long time.

The North’s first lady, Ri, has not been seen in the media since October when she appeared at a musical performance by a visiting Russian troupe.

Ri has recently been suffering from various rumors. One is that she had an inappropriate relationship with Jang while working as a member of the Unhasu Symphony Orchestra.

Asahi Shimbun also reported in September that nine musical troupe members, who were accused of making pornography, had been executed in August to cover up the sexual rumors in connection with Ri.

By Song Sang-ho (