Kim Jong-il 'Marries Former Secretary'

A picture presumed to be of Kim Ok when she accompanied Jo Myong-rok, the first vice chairman of North Koreas National Defense Commission, to Washington when he visited as special envoy of Kim Jong-il in October 2000, from the U.S. Defense Ministry homepage. /Yonhap A picture presumed to be of Kim Ok when she accompanied Jo Myong-rok, the first vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission, to Washington when he visited as special envoy of Kim Jong-il in October 2000, from the U.S. Defense Ministry homepage. /Yonhap

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has married his former secretary, sources claimed Sunday. Kim has been living with Kim Ok (42) since his wife Ko Yong-hi died of cancer in 2004, and she is effectively the communist nation's "first lady," they said.

Responses from the government here have been mixed. One high-ranking official said he "never heard this before," while intelligence sources in Cheong Wa Dae would neither confirm nor deny the claim.

According to the sources, Kim Ok, a trained pianist, served as personal secretary to the North Korean leader from the 1980s until early 2004, and later accompanied Kim Jong-il on his visits to military bases and in meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries under the pseudonym Kim Son-ok. When Jo Myong-rok, the first vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission, visited Washington as a special envoy of Kim Jong-il in October 2000, the name Kim Son-ok appeared among delegation members. Seoul says it cannot confirm they are the same person.

Several sources confirm that Kim Ok has been close to Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-il's cook of 13 years Kenji Fujimoto, who returned to Japan a few years ago, said in his memoir that a personal secretary with "Ok" in her name gained the confidence of the North Korean leader. Shin Yong-hee, a former dancer in North Korea's Mansudae Art Troupe, said when Kim Jong-il was not accompanied by Ko Yong-hi at parties, Kim Ok would be sitting beside him. Shin recalled her as a petite woman with a pretty round face.

High-ranking North Korean defectors tell a slightly different story. They say Kim Ok has been living with Kim Jong-il since the mid-80s after working as pianist in North Korea's Wangjaesan Light Music Band, but jealousy between her and Ko Yong-hi was intense. North Korean officials would call her "comrade secretary" in public but "Queen Min," after the late Chosun empress Myeongseong, behind her back for her daring and intelligence, the defectors said. Kim Ok had to go into exile due to the conflict with Ko, but reappeared and has acted as virtual first lady since Ko's death, another defector said. However, Kim Jong-il is living with a woman in her 30s with the surname Na who graduated from the prestigious Pyongyang University of Music and Dance, he added.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 24, 2006 08:12 KST