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Wife of North Korea's Kim Jong Un makes first public appearance in a year

She has not been seen in public in more than a year, but Kim Jong Un's wife, Ri Sol Ju, made an appearance Wednesday, next to her husband.
Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, and his wife Ri Sol Ju watch a performance, marking the birth anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang, North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, and his wife Ri Sol Ju watch a performance, marking the birth anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang on Tuesday.KCNA / AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's wife, Ri Sol Ju, appeared in state media for the first time in more than a year on Wednesday, joining her husband at a concert on one of the country's biggest holidays.

The official ruling Worker's Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun released photos of the pair at the event to mark the birthday of Kim's late father and former leader Kim Jong Il.

Ri had often accompanied Kim to major public events, but had not been seen since January last year at an event for the Lunar New Year holiday, stoking speculation over her health and potential pregnancy.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) told lawmakers on Tuesday that Ri appeared to have refrained from outside activities to head off coronavirus infections, but was "playing well with their kids."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju laugh as they watch a performance in Pyongyang on Tuesday.KCNA / AP

The NIS believes Ri and Kim have three children. Little is publicly known about the trio.

North Korea has not confirmed any Covid-19 cases, but the NIS has said an outbreak could not be ruled out as the country had active exchanges with China, where the virus first emerged, before closing the border early last year.

Ri and Kim smiled as they watched the concert at Mansudae Art Theatre in the capital of Pyongyang.

Unlike several previous events, nobody in the photographs published by Rodong Sinmun were wearing masks or maintaining social distancing measures.

The newspaper also reported that Kim visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses the embalmed bodies of his father and grandfather, to lay wreaths for the anniversary, called the Day of the Shining Star.

Meanwhile, South Korea's military said Tuesday it had captured a North Korean man who crossed the heavily fortified border between the two countries and was investigating whether he tried to defect.

The man was found near a checkpoint on the eastern end of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the rival Koreas, and was taken into custody after a three-hour search, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

"He is presumed to be a North Korean and we're conducting an investigation into details, including how he had come down and whether he wished to defect," the JCS said in a statement.

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The rare border crossing came as North Korea's prolonged lockdowns rolled back the number of defectors arriving in South Korea to an all-time low last year.

Cross-border ties soured after denuclearisation talks between Pyongyang and Washington stalled in 2019.

A spat simmered in September after North Korean troops shot dead a South Korean fisheries official who went missing at sea, fanning public and political uproar in the South.

In July, Kim declared an emergency and sealed off a border town after a person with Covid-19 symptoms illegally crossed the border into the North from the South.