SEOUL – A mystery woman pictured accompanying North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-Un to recent events has prompted speculation in Seoul about whether she is his partner or his younger sister.
The North’s state television Sunday aired footage of the woman joining Jong-Un as he paid tribute to his late grandfather Kim Il-Sung on the anniversary of his death in 1994.
Top officials including ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-Nam and army chief Ri Yong-Ho accompanied the leader to Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Palace, where the embalmed body of the nation’s first president lies in state.
The TV footage showed the woman, apparently in her twenties or thirties, walking next to the leader. She bowed with him before a portrait of Kim Il-Sung.
The short-haired woman, clad in a black suit, was also pictured sitting next to Jong-Un at a concert by a state orchestra on Friday.
Some South Korea media reports suggested she was Kim’s younger sister Yo-Jong, who is believed to have studied in Switzerland along with him in the 1990s. Others suggested she may be Kim’s wife or lover.
Seoul’s intelligence agency and unification ministry, in charge of cross-border affairs, declined to comment.
The speculation highlighted the degree of secrecy in the North about the private lives of its rulers.
Jong-Un took power after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il last December but the outside world does not even know his exact age.
An unidentified woman pictured standing behind Jong-Un during mourning for his late father last December was identified by some sources as the new leader’s younger sister.
JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said the woman pictured in recent days may be Hyon Song-Wol, a famous state singer rumoured to be the leader’s lover.
It said she disappeared from public view in 2006 but was seen on TV again in March, apparently late in pregnancy.
“Hyon was a friend of Kim since they were teenagers and there is a rumour among the North’s elites that she was his lover,” it quoted an unidentified Seoul intelligence official as saying.
But Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies said there was “little chance” the mystery woman was Kim’s partner, given that the country’s past first ladies have rarely made public appearances with leaders.
“She could be Yo-Jong or perhaps a daughter of one of the mistresses of the late Kim Jong-Il… so that Jong-Un can publicly showcase the solidarity in the ruling family,” Yang told AFP.