North Korea confirms mystery woman is leader’s wife

July 26th, 2012 - 10:50 pm ICT by BNO News  

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA (BNO NEWS) — North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, is married, state-run media confirmed on Wednesday, ending weeks of speculation about a young woman who accompanied the world’s youngest leader during public events in recent weeks.

A report from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim visited the opening of the Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang, the country’s capital, on Wednesday. It said he was accompanied by wife Ri Sol-ju, but the report gave no details about when the marriage took place.

Other details about Ri were also not released by the reclusive state, but a South Korean lawmaker told CNN on Thursday that the couple is believed to have married in 2009. Jung Chung-Rai, a lawmaker from the Democratic United Party, said Ri is 23-years-old and attended Geumsung’s Second Middle School before going to China to study singing.

Speculation began earlier this month when state-run media showed footage of a young woman accompanying Kim, but it did not identify her. One video showed the couple walking in front of nearly two dozen senior military officials while a photograph showed Ri sitting next to Kim at a musical concert.

Kim and Ri were seen touring the Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground in video and photos released by KCNA on Thursday. Some of the photos showed Ri holding Kim’s hand while others showed the leader greeting enthusiastic-looking visitors at the amusement park. Two photos and videos also showed Kim trying out one of the park’s rides.

Analysts say the footage shows Kim as a benevolent leader who cares about his people in a more affectionate and direct manner, different from his father Kim Jong-il who appeared very reserved and somewhat disconnected in public. The young Kim also appears much more communicative and exudes confidence despite his young age and inexperience, something which is likely to impress North Koreans and have positive effects over time, analysts at the International Crisis Group think-thank said.

Last week, the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, the National Defense Commission of the DPRK and the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK decided to award Kim the title of marshal, making him the highest ranked military officer.

The announcement came just days after a brief government statement said North Korean military chief Ri Yong Ho had been relieved of his official posts during a meeting in Pyongyang. It said Ri, 69, was relieved of his duties due to an unspecified illness, although the reclusive state has previously used illnesses and accidents as a pretext to get rid of high-ranking officials. Others have simply vanished unannounced.

Ri was appointed chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in 2009 and had since been one of the most senior officials in North Korea. He frequently accompanied the new Supreme Leader leader, Kim Jong-un, and previously leader Kim Jong-il until he died in December 2011.

Ri’s last known public appearance was on July 8 when he attended a remembrance concert commemorating the 18th death anniversary of Kim Il-sung, who ruled the country from December 1972 until July 1994 and was later named Eternal President of the Republic. Kim Il-sung was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il, who in turn was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un.

Ri appeared to be healthy in recent public appearances, raising questions among analysts who believe Kim Jong-un may be purging the ruling elite as he attempts to put his own mark on the impoverished nation he inherited when his father died. On July 17, the military named little-known Hyon Yong Chol as the army’s new vice marshal.

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