Fresh from the news that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had his uncle executed (possibly, but probably not, by feeding him to 120 hungry dogs), there’s a new question in Seoul: What happened to Kim’s aunt?
The Chosun Ilbo reports that a government source says that Kim Kyong-hui, who has not appeared in public recently, may have died either from a heart attack or possibly after committing suicide. The government source was clear, however, that South Korean intelligence sources have not been able to confirm her death, and it is also possible that she went abroad for medical treatment. She has not been in public since September 10, the paper reports, notably missing the anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death on Dec. 17.
Back in December, the Daily NK reported that Kim had left North Korea for medical treatment after her husband’s execution. “Her health wasn’t great as it was,” a source based in North Korea reportedly told the website, “and I hear that she suffered a heart attack when her husband was executed by firing squad.”
While the idea of someone being so overcome with grief that they had a heart attack may be compelling, it may not be accurate — other reports in the South Korean press suggest that Kim and Jang had separated after the death of Kim Jong-il, and that she may even have taken the lead in Jang’s fall from grace. Reports after her husband’s death indicated she had not fallen out of favour with the North Korean leadership, despite her spouse’s alleged crimes.
There’s some pretty big caveats here of course — while the Chosun Ilbo is generally considered a reliable source, it is also a conservative paper with ties to the Chinese intelligence community, a group who have their own axe to grind, and the Daily NK’s reliance on North Korean defectors has led some to question its reliability. Until she appears in public or a North Korean news agency comments, it’s unlikely we’ll know exactly what has happened to Kim Kyong-hui.
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