Who is mystery woman with Kim?

SEOUL - A mystery woman pictured accompanying North Korea's leader, Mr Kim Jong Un, to recent events has prompted speculation in Seoul about whether she is his partner or his younger sister.

The North's state television on Sunday aired footage of the woman joining Mr Kim, as he paid tribute to his late grandfather, Mr Kim Il Sung, on the anniversary of his death in 1994.

Top officials accompanied the leader to Pyongyang's Kumsusan Palace, where the embalmed body of the nation's first president lies in state.

The TV footage showed the woman, in her twenties or thirties, walking next to the leader.

She bowed with him before a portrait of the first president. The short-haired woman, clad in a black suit, was also pictured sitting next to Mr Kim at a concert by a state orchestra last Friday.

Some South Korea media reports suggested she was the leader's younger sister, Yo Jong, who is believed to have studied in Switzerland with him in the 1990s. Others suggested she may be his wife or lover.

The speculation highlighted the degree of secrecy in the North about the private lives of its rulers.

Mr Kim took power after the death of his father, Mr Kim Jong Il, last December but the outside world does not even know his exact age.

An unidentified woman pictured standing behind Mr Kim during mourning for his late father last December was identified by some sources as the new leader's younger sister.

Joong Ang Ilbo newspaper said the woman pictured in recent days may be Ms Hyon Song Wol, a famous state singer rumoured to be the leader's lover.

It said she disappeared from public view in 2006, but was seen on TV again in March, apparently late in pregnancy.

"Hyon was a friend of Kim since they were teenagers and there is a rumour among the North's elites that she was his lover," it quoted an unidentified Seoul intelligence official as saying.

But Professor Yang Moo Jin of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies said there was "little chance" that the mystery woman was Mr Kim's partner, given that the country's past first ladies have rarely made public appearances with leaders.

"She could be Yo Jong or perhaps a daughter of one of the mistresses of the late Kim Jong Il...so that Jong Un can publicly showcase the solidarity in the ruling family," Prof Yang said.

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