Fears Kim Jong-un's sister may have been ‘purged’
Fears are growing that Kim Jong-un's sister could have been "purged" by her paranoid dictator brother, after she hasn't been seen in public for more than a month.
Kim Yo-jong was last seen on July 27, at the height of rumours she was gearing up to take over the leadership from older brother.
Her last appearance was standing beside her 36-year-old brother, handing out commemorative pistols to military leaders on the 67th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War.
But the speculation that she was about to seize power from her reportedly sick brother appears to never have come to fruition.
Instead, experts say Kim Yo-jong could be "purged" by Kim Jong-un.
The North Korean dictator is no stranger to purging or executing those he believes have wronged him or are planning to doublecross him.
Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un's half brother, was the last to fall victim to the dictator's purge.
He was assassinated with a nerve agent on February 13, 2017 as he walked through Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.
However there could be another explanation as to why Kim Yo-jong has avoided the public eye since July.
Experts believe she could be laying low to quieten outside speculation she was making a move on her brother's job.
"In the past, anyone was deprived of their position the moment they were described as the number two person in the North," Professor Nam Sung-wook of Korea University told South Korea news site Chosun Ilbo.
"There must be a semblance of checks and balances, although Kim Yo-jong is a family member."
CNN reported last week her absence "is unusual, but could be explained by mundane reasons like illness or having other business to attend to".
Kim Yo-jong simply being busy could be the most likely explanation with North Korean sources revealing this week she had been helping the country battle coronavirus.
A source described Kim Yo-jong as "the commander in chief of all quarantine efforts" and said she was behind the country's strict coronavirus lockdown.
"All international borders remain closed. Supplies coming to Nampo seaport remain suspended as there are no ships sailing in from China's Dalian port where COVID-19 cases were detected. Only COVID-19 related shipments are being allowed through Sinuiju-Dandong border," a North Korean source told Voice of America.
"Kim Yo-jong is the commander in chief of all quarantine efforts," the source added.
Inside North Korean capital Pyongyang, it appears to be business as usual.
Thousands of people attended a celebration on August 28 to mark North Korea's 'Youth Day'.
The Pyongnang branch of the World Health Organisation (WHO) still denies there's been a single case of coronavirus in the hermit nation.
The head of the Pyongyang office earlier told Voice of America every suspected case of coronavirus had so far tested negative.
"On COVID-19 response, WHO has been informed by the Ministry of Public Health … that as of August 20, 2767 people have been tested … in the country and all have tested negative," the Pyongyang WHO spokesman said.
And while Kim Yo-jong lays low amid the power struggle speculation, Kim Jong-un has been embracing public life as much as possible.
The leader was photographed late last week inspecting the damage from Typhoon Bavi after the severe storm toppled trees in Pyongyang.
The storm - at one point categorised as a severe typhoon - made its way up the peninsula this week, raising fears of havoc as it approached the North.
Trees were uprooted in Pyongyang, including along Mirae Scientists' Street, one of Kim's showpiece developments.
State media images also showed a building in Sariwon, to the south, missing some panels.
However the official KCNA news agency made no mention of any fatalities and Kim gave an upbeat assessment of the storm's aftermath as he inspected a farming region southwest of Pyongyang.
The damage was "smaller than expected", KCNA quoted Kim as saying, adding he had "worried a lot" and the outcome was "fortunate".
Kim was pictured in Friday's Rodong Sinmun newspaper holding a corn cob as he discussed the situation with officials.
Natural disasters tend to have a greater impact in the North than in the South due to its creaking infrastructure.
North Korea is also vulnerable to flooding as many mountains and hills have long been deforested, allowing water to flow downhill unchecked.
International aid workers in the country are currently unable to travel outside Pyongyang due to restrictions authorities have imposed to guard against coronavirus.
- with AFP
Originally published as Kim Yo-jong may have been 'purged'