Friday, July 13, 2012

North Korean mystery woman: A possible new first lady for Pyongyang?

KCNA via Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and an unidentified woman believed to be Hyon Song Wol applaud during a performance in Pyongyang in a picture released by the state media on July 9, 2012.

Among North Korea watchers, it was as close as it gets to titillating tabloid news when an attractive, unidentified young woman suddenly started appearing alongside Kim Jong Un, the son who inherited leadership of the reclusive authoritarian regime from Kim Jong Il at the end of 2011.

The same glamorous woman — with short hair and dressed in a well-cut suit — appeared at Kim’s side at two events earlier this month. One was a somber ceremony marking the 18thanniversary of the death of his grandfather, North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il Sung. The other was a performance featuring Tigger and Minnie Mouse that was broadcast on state television.

After a flurry of speculation, South Korean intelligence experts have identified the woman as Pyongyang pop star Hyon Song Wol, the Joong Ang Daily newspaper in Seoul reported on Wednesday.

North Korea did not name the woman in the official press and details about her cannot be independently verified.

According to Joong Ang, translated by other news sources including The Independent of London, Hyon was the lead singer for Bochonbo Electronic Music Band, which had several hits in the mid-2000s, including "I love Pyongyang," and "We are the Troops of the Party."

In a YouTube music video of "Excellent Horse-like Lady" — reportedly her biggest hit — Hyon can be seen dashing amid equipment at a textile factory, raising workers spirits and productivity.

Intelligence officials said that Hyon and Kim first dated when Kim returned from a private high school in Switzerland a decade ago, but that the relationship was officially nixed by then leader Kim Jong Il, according to the South Korean newspaper, and Hyon reportedly married a military officer and had a child.

Kim Jong Il, dubbed "Dear Leader," died in December 2011, giving way to "Great Successor" Kim Jong Un, who has been consolidating his power over the military, government and Communist Party. Very little is known about the new leader, including his age. He is believed to be in his late twenties.

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Initial speculation raised the possibility that the woman was a sibling or half-sibling of Kim, whose father had two official wives, two other known domestic partners and an unknown number of liaisons.

Kim Jong Un has a younger full sister, about whom very little is known.

North Korean leaders typically do not appear in public with their wives, but as The Independent reported, these appearances were certainly not by chance, which raises another question for tea-leave readers to ponder: If Kim Jong Un is introducing a partner or wife to the public in a new way, does it mean he will start to change other entrenched practices that keep North Korea isolated from the rest of the world?

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