Rare photo suggests Kim Jong-un’s sister at heart of political inner circle

The younger sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un appears to have cemented her position at the heart of his inner circle after making a rare public appearance seated next to top officials at a ruling Worker’s Party congress.

A photo which appeared in the state-run Rodong Shinmun over the weekend showed Kim Yo-jong, believed to be 28-30, in the front row of an all male line-up of senior party officials, clapping as her brother addresses the room.

Ms Kim is seen next to her brother’s right-hand man and party vice-chairman, Choe Ryong-hae, and Worker’s Party secretaries Kim Pyong-hae and O Su-yong, reported the South Korean Chosun Ilbo.

In a country known for its staged optics, the seating arrangement suggests her quiet promotion to the party’s inner sanctum and the growing importance of her role in navigating the hermit kingdom through an ongoing international crisis.

Kim Yo-Jong (L), vice department director of the Central Committee of the Worker's Party of Korea (WPK)

Kim already promoted his younger sister to the politburo, the country’s top decision-making body, in October. The move was interpreted by some experts as a generational shift in which he was seeking to break free from the grip of his father Kim Jong-il’s inner court.

Ms Kim has always enjoyed the trust of her mercurial sibling. As head of the party’s propaganda department, she is said to have been instrumental in creating his cult of personality, attempting to portray him as a benevolent leader.

Alongside his wife, Ri Sol-ju, she is one of the two most visible women in North Korean public life, and is regularly seen with Kim Jong-un at public functions, most recently while visiting a cosmetics factory.

Her growing influence as a trusted aide comes amid a suspected purge and execution of some of the pariah regime’s top brass at the orders of her paranoid brother.

The disappearance of General Hwang Pyong-so, the most senior military commander after the supreme leader, in October, has sparked reports that he may have been executed for alleged corruption.

He was reportedly arrested along with his deputy, Kim Won-hong, and accused of taking bribes. Mr Kim is said to have been incarcerated in a labour camp.

Separate reports have suggested that Park In-young, head of North Korea’s Bureau 131, which is tasked with supervising the country’s nuclear test facilities, may also have been killed over delays to the last nuclear bomb test in September.

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