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Younger Sister of North Korean Leader Prepares for Spotlight


FILE - Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attends an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 13, 2017.

Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, will be the first member of the country's ruling party to enter South Korea when she arrives at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony Friday in Pyeongchang.

She will be part of a high-level 22-member delegation that experts say is part of a campaign to repair relations with South Korea and begin talks with the U.S. to ease sanctions on the isolated communist regime.

Her age is publicly unknown, but she is believed to be about 30. She is the youngest of three children of Kim Jong Il, who ruled North Korea from 1994 to 2011, and his companion, Japanese-born dancer Ko Yong Hui.

She attended primary school in Bern, Switzerland, as did her older brothers, and she is believed to have enjoyed ballet lessons when she was there.

Kim Yo Jong returned to North Korea about 2000, the same time as Kim Jong Un.

It is not known where she attended high school, but she is believed to have attended classes at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang.

Since her return to North Korea, she is said to have been prepared for a leadership role by her aunt, Kim Kyong Hui.

FILE - Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is pictured during the official opening of the Ryomyong residential area, a collection of more than a dozen apartment buildings, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 13, 2017.
FILE - Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is pictured during the official opening of the Ryomyong residential area, a collection of more than a dozen apartment buildings, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 13, 2017.

In 2010, Kim Yo Jong started helping develop a leadership succession plan while employed at the National Defense Commission and served in a personal administrative role for her father, Kim Jong Il.

She replaced her aunt last year as a member of the influential political arm of the ruling Workers' Party. Her aunt had disappeared from public view after her husband was executed for trying to develop a power base to contest Kim Jong Un.

Kim Yo Jong currently is deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers' Party of Korea, an influential role that ensures Kim Jong Un is portrayed as powerful leader.

Her role will take on added significance when she travels to South Korea, where she will have lunch with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and possibly have an encounter with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

"It makes sense … to have some kind of face or emissary as an initial communications channel [between the two Koreas]," said Scott Snyder, a U.S.-Korea policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an interview with VOA Contributor Greta Van Susteren.

"The real question is whether the North Koreans intend to use this solely for propaganda purposes or whether or not we can find some kind of opening to extend the discussion with a leadership that really has not been talking with … any other leaders in the world," Snyder added.

Kim Yo Jong is Kim Jong Un's only sibling who is a member of North Korea's leadership. Kim Jong Un's older brother, Kim Jong Chol, has been out of the public eye since his younger brother succeeded their father after his death in 2011. The leader's half brother, Kim Jong Nam, was assassinated last year by what were believed to be North Korean agents at an airport in Malaysia.

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