North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, has reportedly appeared in public for the first time in more than a year, with questions swirling around the mysterious partner of the dictator.
Pictures carried by the country's state media showed her joining her husband at a concert on one of the country’s biggest holidays.
The official ruling Worker’s Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun released photos of the pair at the event this week to mark the birthday of Kim’s late father and former leader Kim Jong Il.
Ri had often accompanied Kim to major public events, but had not been seen since January last year at an event for the Lunar New Year holiday, stoking speculation over her health and potential pregnancy.
It's not clear why she has been absent from the public eye for so long, with some North Korean observers speculating coronavirus precautions could have played a part.
Intelligence agency says wife disappeared over Covid fears
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told lawmakers on Tuesday (local time) that Ri appeared to have refrained from outside activities to head off coronavirus infections but was “playing well with their kids".
The NIS believes Ri and Kim have three children however, little is publicly known about the trio.
North Korea has not confirmed any Covid-19 cases, but the NIS has said an outbreak could not be ruled out as the country had active exchanges with China, where the virus first emerged, before closing the border early last year.
#breaking Ri Sol Ju, wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, makes what appears to be her first public appearance in a year, attending an art performance in Pyongyang. South Korea’s NIS believes she is well and may have avoided appearances as a COVID-19 precaution. (KCNA images) pic.twitter.com/f73kT54OnF
— Will Ripley (@willripleyCNN) February 17, 2021
Ri and Kim smiled as they watched the concert at Mansudae Art Theatre in the capital of Pyongyang. Unlike several previous events, nobody in the photographs published by Rodong Sinmun were wearing masks or maintaining social distancing measures.
The newspaper also reported that Kim visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses the embalmed bodies of his father and grandfather, to lay wreaths for the anniversary, called the Day of the Shining Star.
North Korea had requested Covid-19 vaccines earlier this month and was expected to receive nearly two million doses, according to the Gavi vaccine alliance, part of the WHO-backed Covax program.
It is the first official confirmation that the North has asked for international help, with the country's medical infrastructure seen as woefully inadequate for dealing with any large-scale outbreak.
In a teary public speech in October, the 36-year-old North Korean dictator apologised to citizens for failing to improve their lives. In a country of about 25 million, it is estimated roughly 60 per cent continue to live in poverty.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.