Kim Jong Un's aunt retains her position following uncle's execution

Kim Kyong Hui, the aunt of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, seems to have retained her political standing following her husband's execution for allegedly trying to overthrow the government. Kyong Hui, the sister of Kim Jong Il, helped groom Jong Un to lead the country.  

Jason Lee/Reuters/File
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (r.) salutes as an honour guard marches past, while his aunt Kim Kyong Hui (l.) and Premier Pak Pong-ju watch during the opening ceremony of the Cemetery of Fallen Fighters of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in Pyongyang July 25. Kyong Hui remains a part of the regime's inner circle, even after the execution of her husband last week, the second most powerful man in the isolated nation.

The aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been named to an ad-hoc state committee, the country's official media reported, an indication that the execution of her husband and the country's No. 2 has not immediately diminished her influence.

The fate of Kim Kyong Hui — a younger sister of late leader Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un's father — was questioned after North Korea announced Friday that her husband, Jang Song Thaek, was executed for trying to overthrow the government.

But her name appeared in a state media dispatch late Saturday alongside top officials on a funeral committee for fellow senior Workers' Party official Kim Kuk Thae, who died Friday. Her name appeared sixth in the dispatch, which listed more than 50 funeral committee members.

Considered extremely close to her brother Kim Jong Il, Kim Kyong Hui has risen through the ranks in recent years, helping to groom Kim Jong Un as the country's next leader and eventually take over power after his father's death in late 2011.

The 67-year-old holds a slew of top posts, including ruling Workers' Party secretary and four-star army general. Some analysts said she may be spared her husband's fate because she is directly related to the country's founder, Kim Il Sung, grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

Analysts said the dispatch suggested that Kim Kyong Hui's political standing hasn't been immediately affected by her husband's execution and that she may have even given her nephew the green light to fire Jang — but not to have him executed.

"Jang's purging may have taken place after Kim Kyong Hui consented to it," said analyst Hong Hyun-ik from the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. "She may have opposed Jang's death sentence, but she could have agreed on Jang being dismissed."

Kim and Jang, who married in 1972, had a dysfunctional marriage in recent years, and their only daughter committed suicide in 2006 while studying in Paris, according to South Korean media reports.

If her health condition allows it, Kim Kyong Hui is expected to join other top officials Tuesday and attend ceremonies marking the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death, Hong said.

Looking pale and gaunt lately in official appearances, Kim Kyong Hui's public activities have been sharply reduced in recent months amid media reports that she suffers liver, heart and other ailments.

Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, said that Jang's execution may have been possible because Kim Kyong Hui had not been actively engaged in politics due to her reported health problems.

Jang's execution was shocking because it was carried out only a few days after his dismissal from all posts. It's unusual for the country to publicize any purging and execution of senior officials to the outside world. Many North Korea observers said that the moves were aimed at strengthening Kim's power, but that they also indicate Kim still lacks the same absolute power held by his father.

Kim, the North Korea expert, said that Jang's execution and frequent personnel reshuffles that Kim Jong Un has undertaken over the past two years show that the young leader doesn't appear to have confidence in who to trust as he reshapes a government dotted with people from his father's era.

"Dictators always feel uneasy," he said.

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