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Kim seen traveling with woman, said to be wife

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was confirmed to have taken his partner Kim Ok with him to China, a South Korean news report said, drawing attention to her mysterious official role and status in the Pyongyang government.

Kim Ok, 47 years old, is known as Kim’s current spouse and a powerful figure who personally assisted him through his illness in 2008 and assumes the role as North Korea’s first lady. 
A lady thought to be Kim Ok, de facto wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, gets out of the limousine she shared with Kim Jong-il in Nanjing, China on Tuesday. At least one South Korean intelligence official believes her to be Kim Ok. (Yonhap News)
A lady thought to be Kim Ok, de facto wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, gets out of the limousine she shared with Kim Jong-il in Nanjing, China on Tuesday. At least one South Korean intelligence official believes her to be Kim Ok. (Yonhap News)

A video image uploaded on the Internet by someone in Nanjing on Tuesday showed Kim Jong-il getting out of a black Maybach surrounded by security and protocol officials at a Chinese LCD plant in the eastern coastal city. As Kim Jong-il was greeted by a group of people welcoming his visit, a middle-aged lady stepped out of the car from the other side and entered the building separately.

Because the Chinese officials did not escort her like they did Kim Jong-il, it is possible that she could have been an interpreter or a Chinese official.

But Seoul’s vernacular newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported Wednesday that she is highly likely to be Kim Ok, citing an unnamed South Korean intelligence source.

“Kim Ok had accompanied the leader’s previous trips to China in May and August last year,” the source was quoted as saying by the Chosun Ilbo.

“Considering that the lady (in the video image) sat next to Kim Jong-il in the limousine and (they) stepped out of the car together (about six seconds after the leader) upon arrival, we are pretty sure she is Kim Ok.”

Kim Ok is believed to have built on her so-called “door handle power” ever since she looked after Kim Jong-il in his sickbed after he suffered a stroke in August 2008.

Kim Ok was also there when Kim Jong-il had a luncheon meeting with Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun in August 2009.

Having majored in piano at Pyongyang University of Music and Dance, Kim Ok was selected in the early 1980s as a member of “Gippeumjo” (Pleasure Brigade), a group of young women providing entertainment for high-ranking Workers’ Party of Korea officials, their families and distinguished guests, according to South Korean intelligence officials.

She later took care of Kim Jong-il’s health and started living with him at some point after the death of his third consort Ko Young-hee. Ko, who died in 2004, was the mother of Kim Jong-il’s two sons ― Jong-chul and the apparent successor Jong-un.

According to a former high-ranking North Korean official who recently defected to the South, Kim Ok often gives direct orders or even scolds senior officials in Pyongyang.

There are unconfirmed rumors that the couple has a 7-year-old son.

Some North Korea observers here say Kim Jong-un is likely to have acknowledged Kim Ok’s status as his father’s spouse and her diplomatic role as first lady.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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