Seoul, South Korea. A mystery woman pictured accompanying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to recent events has prompted speculation in Seoul over whether she is his partner or his younger sister.
The North’s state TV on Sunday aired footage of the woman joining him as he paid tribute to his late grandfather Kim Il Sung on the anniversary of his death.
Top officials, including ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam and army chief Ri Yong Ho, accompanied the young leader to Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Palace, where the embalmed body of the nation’s founder lies in state.
TV footage showed the woman, apparently in her 20s or 30s, walking next to Kim Jong Un and bowing with him before Kim Il Sung’s portrait. The woman, clad in a black suit, was also seen sitting next to Kim Jong Un at a concert by a state orchestra last Friday.
The Hankyoreh newspaper highlighted that she sat with one arm on the leader’s armrest. “Other top committee members had their arms discreetly on their knees or in their lap,” it said.
South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, quoting intelligence officials, identified her as Hyon Song Wol, a famous state singer rumored to be the leader’s lover.
It said she vanished from public view in 2006 – when Kim Jong Un was being groomed as heir apparent by late father Kim Jong Il. She appeared on TV again in March.
“The two have known each other since they were in their teens, and it came to light that rumors about the two having an affair have been circulating among Pyongyang’s top elite,” an intelligence official told JoongAng Ilbo.
The two reportedly became romantically involved about a decade ago when Kim Jong Un returned from his studies in Switzerland. But he is presumed to have called off their relationship in 2006 after his father objected to it.
The Japanese media reported that Hyon then married a North Korean army officer.
The new leader, who is believed to be in his late 20s, is thought to have rekindled the relationship after his father’s death.
Other South Korean media suggested the she was Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Yeo Jong, who went to a school in Switzerland with him in the 1990s.
Professor Yang Moo Jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies said there was ‘little chance’ the woman was Mr Kim’s partner as the nation’s past first ladies rarely appeared publicly with leaders.
“She could be Yeo Jong or perhaps a daughter of one of the mistresses of the late Kim Jong Il… so Jong Un can publicly showcase solidarity in the ruling family,” he told Agence France-Presse.