Fears grow for Kim Jong Un’s wife after she disappeared from public eye for months

By @chelean on
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) stands next to his wife Ri Sol Ju
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) stands next to his wife Ri Sol Ju as they attend the 2014 Combat Flight Contest among commanding officers of the Korean People's Air Force in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang May 10, 2014. Reuters/KCNA

Kim Jong Un’s wife is feared to be missing after she has disappeared from the public eye for seven months. According to reports, Ri Sol-ju may have fallen out with her husband’s younger sister, Kim Yo-Jong, who has been widely regarded as the real power behind the leadership in North Korea.

Ri was introduced as the tyrant’s wife in 2012. Since then, she had been seen accompanying her 32-year-old husband to public events in North Korea. However, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap News, she hasn’t been seen in the public since March 28 when she escorted Kim on his visit to a newly built commercial district and health complex in Pyongyang.

Kim, on the other hand, has been frequently seen touring the country without his wife.

“Ri showed up at public events every two months last year but has not appeared in public for over seven months this year. That’s quite extraordinary,” a North Korean source told the paper. “Some sources speculate Ri’s disappearance may be linked to a check on her activities by Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong.”

Yo-jong is the head of the country’s Propaganda and Agitation Department. She is allegedly responsible for establishing her brother’s reputation in North Korea.

According to Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor who specialises on the Pyongyang leadership at the Waseda University in Tokyo, Yo-jong holds a great deal of influence over Kim because Kim, who lacks the skills, needs his sister’s adeptness in political manoeuvring to keep him in power. And hence, if Ri had any disagreement with Yo-jong, she would most probably be ostracised.

It could also be that Ri is pregnant, Shigemura told the Telegraph.

“There are several possible reasons, including that she is pregnant or that there is some sort of problem between the two of them,” the professor said. “There have also been reports of instability in Pyongyang and even of several attempted attacks, including by factions in the North Korean military, against Kim last year.

“It is possible that Ri has not appeared in public because she is being closely guarded.”

This is not Ri’s first public disappearance. She had not been seen for months before she emerged in public in May 2015, prompting speculations that she had been punished or was pregnant. In 2013, former US basketball star Dennis Rodman told the Guardian that Kim and Ri were parents to a baby daughter named Ju-ae.

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