SEOUL – Newly televised images from North Korea showing a young woman accompanying the country's new leader are getting the attention of analysts and intelligence officials, who are trying to figure out her identity.
Is she Kim Jong Un's girlfriend, wife or younger sister? One published report in a South Korean newspaper even speculated the mystery woman might have been a lover of the new leader's late father, Kim Jong Il.
North Korea has not said whether the current leader has a wife and his official biography does not mention his marital status.
What is certain is that, in a nation where any appearances involving the country's leader are highly stage-managed, the woman is someone significant, especially to be seen walking and sitting at the side of Kim, who is believed to be in his late 20's.
Physical proximity to a North Korean leader in public appearances is a typical indication of where someone ranks in the political or military hierarchy of the totalitarian state.
Senior fellow Cheong Seong-chang at the Sejong Institute believes the woman is Kim Jong Un's wife.
Cheong says unlike his father who had a complicated personal life, Kim Jong Un does not have such baggage and has firmly secured power. Thus it is timely for him to reveal his wife to the public.
Cheong says this can also be interpreted as an indication that North Korea's political situation has re-stabilized following Kim Jong Il's death last December.
Cheong adds that Kim's biggest handicap as a leader is his age and by showing his wife in public, it will make North Koreans more comfortable with his youth by portraying him as a family man.
The woman was wearing a black jacket and skirt as she bowed with Kim at a Sunday ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of the death of Kim Il Sung, the country's founder and grandfather of the current leader.
Officials of the government of South Korea, which closely monitors events in the North, say they do not know the woman's identity.
The mystery woman was first seen seated next to Kim attending a performance broadcast on state television Saturday.
The show by the newly-organized Moranbong band also is apparently the first time North Korea has allowed performers dressed in costumes of such Western popular culture icons as Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh.
In response to a query from VOA News, a Walt Disney Company official in California replied in a terse one-sentence statement that the company "did not license or authorize the use of its characters" for the performance in Pyongyang.