KIM Jong-un’s aunt has been seen for the first time in six years – quelling rumours he killed her off when she dared to complain about her husband’s grisly execution.
Kim Kyong-hui was seen clapping alongside the despotic North Korean leader and his wife Ri Sol-ju at a state show marking Lunar New Year’s Day in Pyongyang.
She vanished from the public eye in 2013, shortly after her husband was brutally murdered on her nephew’s orders for “acts of treachery”.
Jang Song-thaek was dramatically dragged from an official meeting by armed guards and reportedly fed to dogs over the supposed plot against the regime.
It was later reported his wife had either been poisoned by her nephew or fled the country after kicking up a fuss about the outrageous killing.
Oliver Hotham, editor of HK News, a website which monitors the closed nation, said her sudden appearance comes as a real shock.
“Many North Korea watchers had assumed that Kim Kyong-hui had gone into exile or even killed in the wake of her husband’s death.
“So to see her pop up by the leader’s side some six years later is certainly a surprise,” he told Reuters.
She may have “regained an influential position behind the scenes”, he suggested, after her dramatic fall from grace when young Kim took over as supreme leader in 2011.
He added: “It’s also a reminder of how weird and brutal North Korea is, after all she’s sitting next to the man who ordered her husband’s execution.”
Other observers say her re-appearance comes at a crucial time for her nephew and his struggling country.
“The sudden appearance of major officials in a regime like North Korea’s is always massively important,” said Michael Madden, a North Korea expert from the Washington-based Stimson Center.
The most savage executions ordered by the North Korean leader
THE tubby tyrant has become renowned for the creative ways he dispatches those who cross him.
Agricultural official Hwang Min was executed with an anti-aircraft gun after he challenged Kim’s leadership in 2016.
O Sang-hon, the deputy minister for public security was accused of corruption in 2014 and was tied to a stake then burned alive with a flamethrower.
The rotund despot also had his older brother, Kim Jong-nam, bumped off while he was in Malaysia using a deadly nerve agent.
A manager of a turtle farm in the country was shot when the corpulent dictator visited the farm after he explained that the reptiles had died due to a lack of power, water and food.
And he executed one of his generals by throwing him into a piranha-filled fish tank, according to reports.
Kim is facing a year of sensitive international and domestic politics, as denuclearisation talks with the US remain stalled and international sanctions continue to choke his economy.
“Even if she does not have a political office or formal position in the regime, making a personal appearance like this is a public demonstration of support for her nephew,” he said.
“It is a strong expression of Kim family unity.”
Hui was once an influential figure in the rogue state as the only sister of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the current Kim’s dead dad.
She had initially kept a low profile during the early part of her brother’s rule, but she later frequently accompanied him on his inspection trips after he suffered a stroke in 2008.
While taking up many top posts such as a four-star army general she also played a key role in grooming young Kim as the next leader.
He eventually took power after his father died of a heart attack in late 2011, in the North’s second father-to-son power transfer.
Since Kim’s grandfather established the North Korean government in 1948, his family has carried on the veneration of royal blood, making them the subject of an intense personality cult.