Asia-Pacific

Friday 25 July 2014

Has Kim Jong Un purged his own wife?

Colin Freeman

Published 17/12/2013|20:20

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North Koreans pay their respects in front of statues of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung and former leader Kim Jong Il at Mansudae hill in Pyongyang, on the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in this photo distributed by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) December 17, 2013. North Korea's political and military elite publicly pledged their loyalty to leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, less than a week after he ordered the execution of a powerful family ally in a rare public purge.The young leader was the centre of attention at a large memorial in Pyongyang staged to mark the second anniversary of the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. REUTERS/KCNA (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS ANNIVERSARY) 

ATTENTION EDITORS -  THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA
North Koreans pay their respects in front of statues of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung and former leader Kim Jong Il at Mansudae hill in Pyongyang.
North Korean present wreaths and bow in front of portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il (R) as they mourn the second death anniversary of North Korea's late Kim Jong Il at the North Korean embassy in the Chinese border city of Dandong, Liaoning province, December 17, 2013. North Korea's political and military elite publicly pledged their loyalty to leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, less than a week after he ordered the execution of a powerful family ally in a rare public purge. REUTERS/Jacky Chen (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS ANNIVERSARY)
North Korean present wreaths and bow in front of portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

HE has already demonstrated his ruthlessness by executing both his uncle and his one-time mistress, not to mention numerous other North Koreans who have incurred his displeasure.

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But could Kim Jong Un, the country's new dictator, have purged even his own wife from his inner circle?

 

 

Speculation as to the fate of Ri Sol-ju, the petite former singer whom he married in 2009, is growing in the aftermath of the sudden death of Kim's uncle, Jang Sung Taek, whose execution for treason was announced by Pyongyang last Thursday.

 

 

The killing of a man until now regarded as a regime stalwart has demonstrated that even family members are not safe – and prompted anxious speculation about the fate of Ms Ri, who regularly appears by her husband's side, but has not been seen in public since October.

 

 

As a recent edition of the Daily North Korean, a Pyongyang-watching newspaper based in neighbouring South Korea, put it earlier this month: "Why Has Ri Been Gone for 48 Days?"

 

On Tuesday, video footage was released by North Korean media appearing to show the pair at a memorial service commemorating the second anniversary of the death of father, Kim Jong Il, from whom Kim took over as leader of the world's only hereditary communist republic.

 

But many North Korea experts claim the pictures were from a previous memorial service last summer, raising questions as to why there has so far been no live footage.

 

"Comrade Ri Sol Ju", who is understood to be in her late 20s, first caught Kim's eye as a singer in the Unhasu Orchestra, one of several musical glamour troupes that serve as in house-bands – and sometimes concubines – to the regime.

 

Little more is known about her – even her name is thought to be a pseudonym – although she is believed to harbour a ruthless streak herself.

 

Some reports say it was she who requested the recent execution of Kim's former mistress, Hyon Song-wol, who was also a performer in the Unhasu Orchestra.

 

Ms Hyon was machine-gunned to death along with eight other members of the Unhasu ensemble in August, allegedly because Ms Ri did not feel comfortable with the idea that Kim might see his one-time lover live on stage.

 

The following month, a Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, reported claims from a high-level North Korean defector that the Unhasu Orchestra members had been actually executed for making pornographic films. He further alleged that the execution was designed to cover up Ms Ri's own involvement in such films, and that this might presage her own fall from grace.

 

However, Ms Ri reappeared in public shortly after that, prompting more prosaic explanations that her absence from view since then may simply be to illness, or to the fact that she gave birth to Kim's daughter earlier this year. As with so much in the world's most secretive state, official photographs tell only part of the story.

Telegraph.co.uk

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