The two women who prop up North Korea’s Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol Ju

Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong

One sports a Christian Dior handbag and favors Western clothes. The other carries a notebook and wears dark uniforms. These fashion opposites are the two most influential women in North Korea.

While Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol Ju and younger sister Kim Yo-jong are currently allies in sustaining one of the world’s most reclusive leaders, their overlapping influence makes them potential rivals in a regime where family ties aren’t strong enough to protect against Kim’s penchant for purges.

“Uneasiness is inevitable in a relationship like this,” Kang Myong Do, a son-in-law of North Korea’s former Prime Minister, Kang Song San, said by phone. “The wife wouldn’t like it if her husband got too close to his sister; the sister wouldn’t like it if her brother got too close to his wife.”

Citing conversations with people who have been in the room with both women at the same time, Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch blog, said the two appeared friendly to each other as they sat at opposite sides – Ri with her husband and Kim with senior party officials.

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The influence of Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol Ju

Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol Ju commands a growing following among the wives of North Korean elite while Kim Yo-jong now holds a senior position in the ruling Workers’ Party and serves as an adviser to her brother.

The purge of Jang Song Thaek may have strengthened the hand of Ri with the North Korean elite looking to avoid a similar fate. There are accounts that the wives of North Korean elite used their ties to Ri to “limit the number of officials removed from office due to the Jang purge,” Madden said.

“What we’ll need to watch for is whether Ri Sol Ju becomes Queen Bee among the wives or if that role is assumed by Yo-jong,” he said in an e-mail. “They are a quiet but politically influential cohort in the North Korean elite.”

In public Ri offers a softer side of the Supreme Leader and has been a regular in North Korean propaganda. In 2005, she traveled to South Korea as a teenage cheerleader for North Korean teams at an athletic competition. Seven years later she was revealed as his wife at an appearance with Kim at an amusement park in July 2012.

Still, so little is known about their relationship that it took former NBA star Dennis Rodman to reveal the couple had a child after a trip to Pyongyang in 2013 to play basketball. Rodman told the Guardian newspaper that he held Kim’s daughter Ju-ae and that Kim is a “good dad and has a beautiful family”.

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Where in the world is Kim Jong Un?

Kim jong un Ri sol juNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been out of the public eye for 20 days since attending a concert on Sept. 3 with his wife Ri Sol-ju. (See inset photo.)

The North Korean leader appeared in public 17 times in June, 24 times in July and 16 times in August. But his only public appearance in September was the concert.

This has led to speculation that he is ill. In July he was seen on state TV in July with a slight limp in his right leg and again earlier this month limping on his left leg.

Kim is also getting fatter, leading to rumors that he is suffering from stress and symptoms of heart disease, Free North Korea Radio reported Wednesday. The rumors say Kim has been suffering the symptoms since the execution of his uncle Jang Song-taek and over-eating and drinking heavily.

A South Korean Unification Ministry official warned against jumping to conclusions. “In 2012, Kim Jong-un disappeared from view for 23 days and last year for 17 days,” the official recalled. “Of course it’s possible that there is something wrong …”

[Chosun Ilbo]

Reportedly executed North Korean singer makes surprise TV comeback

A North Korean singer said to be Kim Jong-un’s former girlfriend and reported to have been executed by firing squad last year has appeared on state television. Hyon Song-Wol was shown delivering a speech at a rally of national art workers in the capital Pyongyang on Friday.

The 31-year-old North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, and the performer were said to have been teenage lovers but had been forced to break up by Kim Jong-il, Mr Kim’s father and predecessor.

The singer was reported to have been caught up in palace intrigue last summer having incurred the displeasure of Ri Sol-ju, Mr Kim’s wife. (Shown in photo below, sporting a new, shorter haircut.)

Undated photo released by KCNA on May 11, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (front C) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (front L) inspecting an Air Force Combat Flight Contest.

In August, Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper with close links to its country’s intelligence services, reported that Hyon and 11 other well-known performers had been caught making a sex tape and executed.  The reappearance of Hyon came after months of speculation about whether she was alive.

[National Post]

Powerful aunt of Kim Jong-un disappears from official footage

The aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has mysteriously disappeared from a re-run of a propaganda film, leading to speculation that she has been purged – or even executed.

Kim Kyong Hui

Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that while the original screening featuring Ms Kim (as shown circled above), a re-run shown on Tuesday depicts a scene in which only Kim Jong-un, his wife, and male military officials are visible.

Kim Kyong-hui, 67, is the widow of Jang Song-taek who was recently executed. It was believed she would always remain ‘safe’ under her nephew’s brutal regime, leading analysts to say that her disappearance from the documentary is ominous. Ms Kim’s safety from purging or execution had always been assumed because she is the daughter of North Korean founder Kim Il-sun and the sister of the late leader, Kim Jong-il. Despite all this, Ms Kim is still associated with a husband who was publicly denounced as a traitor and executed in December.

Until January this year, Ms Kim was frequently seen at the side of her nephew and his wife at public events. In the footage in question, which aired in January, she was seen walking with the leader and his wife towards the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital, Pyongyang, to pay tribute to the embalmed bodies of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

The apparent ‘disappearance’ of Kim Kyong-hui has led to speculation that her place in high positions in the Workers’ Party has been taken by Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Yo-jong.

Bros Kim and Rodman

Dennis Rodman first befriended Kim Jong Un, an avid basketball fan who inherited power from his father, during his first North Korean visit last year and has described the young dictator as a “very good guy.”

rodman sings happy birthday to kim jong unOn Wednesday, accompanied by his wife, Kim emerged in a stadium in Pyongyang to cheering crowds who for several minutes wished him a long life, stopping only when the leader hushed them. Rodman gave an impromptu speech and then led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Kim.

After participating in the exhibition basketball game he had organized for about 15 minutes, Rodman got changed and went to sit next to Kim in the audience, where the two spent the rest of the game smoking and laughing together, said Sean Agnew, a tourist who attended the unusual sporting event with Koryo Tours.

“Kim Jong Un really seemed to be enjoying himself,” Agnew said.

dennis rodman bows to Kim Jong UnThe two unlikely comrades appeared to be getting along famously at the game organized for Kim’s birthday. The young leader, whose exact age is unknown, is believed to be in his early 30s.

Images released by The Associated Press also showed Rodman appearing to bow to Kim after singing Happy Birthday.

If we were to give Rodman the benefit of the doubt …

Dennis Rodman sings Happy Birthday to Kim Jong Un

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, his wife Ri Sol-Ju and former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman talk in Pyongyang

Kim Jong-Un, and former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman during his earlier visit to Pyongyang

Dennis Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before leading a squad of former NBA stars in a friendly game Wednesday as part of his “basketball diplomacy” that has been criticized in the United States as naive and laughable. Some members of the U.S. Congress, the NBA and human rights groups, however, say he has become a public relations tool for North Korea’s government.

Rodman dedicated the game to his “best friend” Kim, who along with his wife and other senior officials and their wives watched from a special seating area. The capacity crowd of about 14,000 at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium clapped loudly as Rodman sang a verse from the birthday song.

Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim. He has carefully avoided getting involved in overtly political activities, saying that he is not a statesman and instead is seeking only to build cultural connections with the North through basketball that may help improve relations between Pyongyang and Washington.

Rodman has been slammed in particular for not using his influence with Kim to help free Kenneth Bae, an American missionary in poor health who is being confined in the North for “anti-state” crimes. In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Rodman implied that Bae was at fault for being held captive.

Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said his family couldn’t believe what Rodman said. “Here’s somebody who is in a position to do some good for Kenneth and refuses to do so,” Chung told KOMO Radio in Seattle on Wednesday. “And then after the fact, instead, he decides to hurl these unqualified accusations against Kenneth. It’s clear he has no idea what he’s talking about. I’m not sure who he’s talking to, where he’s getting his information, but he’s certainly no authority on Kenneth Bae.”

The game is a new milestone in Rodman’s unusual relationship with Kim, who inherited power after the death of his father in late 2011 and rarely meets with foreigners. He remains a mystery to much of the outside world and until recently, his birthday was also not widely known, though it was quietly observed elsewhere around the capital Wednesday.

Along with Rodman, the former NBA players included ex-All Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker. Also on the roster were Craig Hodges, Doug Christie, Charles D. Smith and four streetballers.

Members of the team, who average in their late 40s, said they came because they believed the game would be a good opportunity to create a human connection with the people of the isolated country. But some said they have been concerned by the negative reaction they have seen from the media and critics back home.

To keep it friendly, the Americans played against the North Koreans in the first half, but split up and merged teams for the second half.

The North Korean team scored 47 points to 39 for the Americans before the teams were mixed. Rodman played only in the first half and then sat next to Kim during the second half.

[Source: AP]

Ri Sol-Ju, wife of Kim Jong Un, appears in public

North Korea yesterday put to rest rumors that its “Dear Leader” has had his wife bumped off. Speculation was rife after dictator Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol-Ju had not been seen for several weeks, this following the dramatic purge which saw ruthless Jong-un order the execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek.

Kim-Jong-Un_Ri Sol-Ju Dec2013

Stock photo of Ri Sol-Ju with husband Kim Jong-Un

But yesterday the secretive Communist state broadcast video footage of the stony-faced 30-year-old tyrant arm-in-arm with Ri at a parade to mark Monday’s second anniversary of the death of his father Kim Jong-Il.

Ri, along with Jang’s widow Kim Kyong Hui, are regarded as the power behind the throne – two key women the unpredictable Jong-un turns to for advice.

[Mirror]

Note: Kim Jong Un’s aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, did not appear at Tuesday’s memorial.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un continuing in his family tradition

Kim Jong-un apparently learned from his father’s brutal tactics.  The execution of his own uncle is the most important person Kim has ordered killed during his two-year tenure as supreme leader, but it’s not his first.

In August, Hyon Song-wol, a singer rumored to be Kim Jong Un’s ex-girlfriend was executed along with a dozen other popular music performers in front of their families, according to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo. Hyon and the other members of the Unhasu Orchestra were sentenced to death on pornography charges. Kim’s wife Ri Sol-ju is also a previous member of the Unhasu Orchestra and is rumored to have requested Hyon’s death because she was jealous of the other woman’s popularity.

In one of Kim’s first shows of strength he ordered the execution of Kim Chol, a deputy defense minister, just weeks after coming to power following his father’s death in 2011. Chol was accused of drinking alcohol with a female military officer during the country’s three month mourning period for Kim Jong-il, in which his son strictly prohibited “singing or dancing, merrymaking or recreation,” according to reports.

According to Chosun Ilbo, Chol, several other officers were executed, fired at close range by mortars.

[ABC]

Confirmation on Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju beginning a family

north korea Ri Sol Ju and Kim Jong UnRetired NBA star Dennis Rodman has revealed the name of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s baby daughter. On Sunday, Rodman told the British newspaper the Guardian that he and Kim had a “relaxing time by the sea” with the leader’s family and discussed holding a historic friendship basketball game between the U.S. and North Korea.

Rodman said he held Kim’s baby, named Ju Ae, and spoke with his wife Ri Sol Ju. He also alluded to another visit in December.

After his previous trip in February, Rodman said in a media interview that Ri kept talking about her and Kim’s baby daughter. It was a confirmation of media speculation that there was a new baby in North Korea’s ruling family after North Korean state TV in January broadcast video of Ri in which she appeared slimmer than in previous months, when she appeared to be pregnant.

The Guardian report said Rodman plans to organize a basketball game between U.S. and Korean teams and details on the match are expected on Monday. “Kim is a great guy, he loves basketball, and he’s interested in building trust and understanding through sport and cultural exchanges,” Rodman was quoted as saying.

AP