SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was named to an ad-hoc state committee, the country's official media reported over the weekend, an indication that the execution of her husband and the country's No. 2 has not immediately diminished her influence.
Kim Kyong Hui is a younger sister of late leader Kim Jong Il — the father of current leader Kim Jung Un — and her fate was questioned after North Korea stunned the world Friday by announcing that her husband Jang Song Thaek was executed for trying to overthrow the government.
On late Saturday, her name appeared in a state media dispatch alongside top officials in a funeral committee for fellow senior Workers' Party official Kim Kuk Thae, who died on Friday. Her name was placed sixth in sequence in the dispatch that 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 Kim Jong Un to be groomed as the country's next leader and eventually take over after his father's death in late 2011.
The 67-year-old woman holds a slew of top posts, such as a ruling Workers' Party secretary and a 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 Kim Kyong Hui's political standing hasn't been immediately affected by her husband's execution and 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. She may have opposed to Jang's death sentence but may still have agreed on Jang being dismissed," said analyst Hong Hyun-ik from the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.
Hong said that Kim Kyong Hui was expected to attend official ceremonies Tuesday marking the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death, which would draw all top North Korean officials, if her health condition allows it.
Looking pale and gaunt in recent state TV broadcasts, 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 so shocking as 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 the moves are aimed at strengthening Kim's power but also indicate Kim still lacks the same absolute power held by his father.
Kim, the analyst, 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 the government dotted with people from his father's era.
"Dictators always feel uneasy," he said.