The aunt of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has been seen in public for the first time since the execution of her husband years ago.

Kim Kyong-hui is the daughter of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and sister to former leader Kim Jong-il.

She had not been seen since her husband, Chang Song-thaek, was executed by her nephew for “acts of treachery” in 2013.

On Sunday, state media released a photo of her enjoying new year celebrations.

The photo, released by North Korea’s state news agency KCNA, showed Kim Kyong-hui seated next to Kim Jong-un and his wife in a crowded theatre in Pyongyang. She was also included in the list of top-ranking officials in attendance.

It puts an end to speculation about her fate in the years since Kim Jong-un ordered her husband’s execution, who was largely considered to be the second-most powerful man in North Korea at the time.

Oliver Hotham, editor at NK News, which covers events in the reclusive nation, said her appearance was a surprise.

“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,” he told Reuters.

Her appearance seated next to the leader suggested she had retained – or regained – significant influence, he added – possibly as an advisor.

“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.”

Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Chang Song-thaek were major players within the North Korean state at the time of their nephew’s ascension to power nearly a decade ago.

Mr Kim succeeded his father as leader in 2011, and it was widely believed that Mr Chang was one of his mentors during the transition.

But two years into the new leader’s reign, Mr Chang was removed from a meeting by armed guards in dramatic fashion. Official statements claimed he had confessed to plotting to overthrow the state, and that he had been immediately executed.

Many observers of the North Korean state believe he may have been considered a threat to the young leader, and killed as part of a purge.


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